NEW ORLEANS — Lawyers for a former BP engineer are pressing federal prosecutors to explain how their client impeded a grand jury probe by deleting text messages about the company’s response to the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
In a court filing Monday, Kurt Mix’s attorneys also seek a court order requiring prosecutors to specify which deleted texts form the basis for the obstruction-of-justice charges against him.
The defense attorneys say the vast majority of deleted texts don’t appear to have any connection to Mix’s work on BP’s effort to stop the flow of oil from its blown-out Macondo well.
“Even the handful of deleted text messages that might be viewed as pertaining to the incident are so substantively insignificant that it is virtually impossible for Mix to ascertain which of them might form the basis for each obstruction count,” Mix’s lawyers wrote.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. didn’t immediately rule on Mix’s request.
Prosecutors claim Mix deliberately deleted more than 200 text messages to and from a supervisor and more than 100 to and from a contractor to prevent them from being used in the grand jury’s probe of the disaster. The FBI says a text message Mix deleted indicated BP’s blown-out well was spewing far more oil than the company was telling the public.
Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was freed on $100,000 bond following his arrest in Texas on April 24. He pleaded not guilty on May 3 to two counts of obstruction of justice. Each count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The criminal charges against him are the first in the Justice Department’s investigation of the disaster, which killed 11 rig workers and spawned the nation’s worst offshore oil leak.
A trial for Mix is scheduled to start in February.