NEW ORLEANS – A lawyer working for the court-appointed administrator to review claims as part of the multibillion-dollar settlement over BP's Gulf oil spill has been accused of receiving payments from a law firm representing a claimant, allegations that were discussed in a closed-door meeting Thursday with a federal judge overseeing the case, a BP official with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
The BP official, who has reviewed a report outlining the allegations, said claims administrator Patrick Juneau delivered a copy of the report to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier during a meeting in his chambers. Lawyers for BP and the team of private attorneys who brokered the settlement also attended the meeting. The BP official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report hasn't been made public.
The company official who spoke with the AP did not disclose the name of the individual accused of misconduct but described the person's position and role in the administrator's office.
The report indicates that Juneau's s security head also notified the FBI's New Orleans division about the lawyer's alleged conduct.
An FBI spokeswoman in New Orleans declined to comment Thursday.
The BP official said Juneau told the judge that he has suspended the attorney and is weighing further disciplinary action. Neither Juneau nor his spokesman responded to calls and emails on Thursday night.
The report says the head of security for Juneau's office received a complaint that the staff attorney had referred claims to a New Orleans law firm in exchange for portions of subsequent settlement payments. The lawyer allegedly filed those claims before he went to work for Juneau.
The BP official said the claims at issue were filed on behalf of a single claimant and involve hundreds of thousands of dollars.
BP has sued to block what could be billions of dollars in settlement payouts to businesses over the spill. The London-based oil giant has accused Juneau of trying to rewrite the terms of the deal, claiming he violated the settlement in the way he used a complex formula to determine the payments to businesses.
Barbier appointed Juneau last year and has upheld his decisions for calculating payments. BP has appealed, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear the case in July.
The spill began in April 2010 after the BP-leased drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil were released from the Macondo well a mile under the Gulf surface. Marshes, fisheries and beaches from Louisiana to Florida were fouled by the oil until a cap was placed over the blown-out well in July.
BP was ordered to set up a compensation fund for individuals and businesses affected by the spill and committed $20 billion. The claims fund was handled by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg but it later was transferred to the jurisdiction of U.S. District Court in New Orleans.