NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A former BP Plc engineer charged with obstructing justice after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill pleaded guilty to a lesser charge on Friday and was sentenced to six months of probation, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said.
Kurt Mix, who had been tasked by BP to analyze the flow rate of oil gushing from its blown-out Macondo well, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval in New Orleans.
Prosecutors accused Mix of deleting hundreds of text and voice messages that may have proven BP lied about how much oil was leaking into the gulf in what became the worst offshore environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The engineer was convicted in 2013 on one count of obstructing justice, but Duval later threw out the conviction because of misconduct by the jury foreman. It was a setback for the Department of Justice’s effort to hold individuals criminally liable for the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and its aftermath.
Mix pleaded guilty on Friday to a misdemeanor charge of intentionally damaging a protected computer without authorization. Federal prosecutors dropped an obstruction of justice charge, Mix’s lawyers said.
As part of his plea, Mix admitted to deleting a text message conversation with a co-worker who was also a close friend. The texts were mostly personal and did not include important information about the oil spill, his lawyers said.
“The resolution of this case is a vindication of Kurt Mix and an acknowledgement by the Department of Justice that Kurt never acted to obstruct justice,” said his lawyer, Joan McPhee. “This is a case that never should have been brought.”
The Justice Department declined to comment, said spokesman Peter Carr. The sentence of six months of probation and 60 hours of community service was recommended by both the government and defense, he said.
The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and triggered an 87-day oil spill.
Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins