Prosecutors agreed to throw out 22 identity theft charges against San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts and six co-defendants when their trial got under way Monday in U.S. District Court before Judge Louis Guirola Jr.
The seven defendants still face 73 charges alleging they conspired to file false claims over the 2010 BP oil catastrophe and steal the identities of victims who had not consented to be represented by the firm. The government alleges Watts and his associates fraudulently submitted to BP the names of 40,000 individuals with claims that totaled more than $2 billion.
Watts and his associates have denied any wrongdoing. Watts has opted to represent himself at trial.
The six other defendants are Watts’ brother, David Watts, and Wynter Lee, both of whom work in his law firm; and field representatives Hector Eloy Guerra of Weslaco, Texas, Gregory Warren of Lafayette, Louisiana; and Thi Houng “Kristy” Le and her sister-in-law, Thi Hoang “Abby” Nguyen, both of Grand Bay, Alabama.
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Guirola first pointed out duplication in the 95 charges, saying that he had made up a word in the process by describing the “multiplicitousness of the indictment.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Rushing agreed to drop 22 of the charges, but told Guirola it was unlikely to shorten the trial’s length. The government’s case, he said, should take more than three weeks to present.
The trial started Monday with jury selection when 76 potential jurors filed into Guirola’s courtroom. The potential jurors were asked to fill out surveys prepared in advance, then return Tuesday for questions designed to cull the pool to 12 jurors.
Guirola said opening arguments in the case could begin Wednesday.