NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jury deliberations began early Friday in the case against a former BP executive accused of lying to federal investigators about the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
If convicted of making false statements to federal agents, David Rainey faces a possible prison sentence of up to five years. Rainey, then a vice president for BP Exploration and Production Co., was tasked with estimating how much oil was spewing into the Gulf of Mexico days after the April 20, 2010 explosion.
Prosecutors say he manipulated his calculations to match a much-too-low early government estimate of 5,000 barrels per day.
A federal judge ruled this year that roughly 3.2 million barrels spilled before the damaged well was capped — a rate of more than 36,000 barrels per day.
At issue was whether Rainey lied to investigators for the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency on April 6, 2011. That is when he allegedly told them that he came up with an April 2010 estimate that more than 5,000 barrels a day was flowing into the gulf before he saw a government estimate indicating a similar rate.
Prosecutors allege that Rainey purposely manipulated his figures to match the government estimate in an effort to downplay the magnitude of the spill.
Defense attorney Reid Weingarten argued that there was much more than a reasonable doubt in the government case. He castigated the government for relying on agents' notes rather than recording the April 2011 interview.
He also raised doubts about forensic evidence indicating Rainey received a text message from a colleague about the government estimate on April 26, 2010 — before he provided his own 5,000 barrel figure.
One witness, a federal scientist, had testified that he told Rainey about the government flow estimate on April 26, but Weingarten raised questions about whether that witness could remember such detail to the day, especially in the chaotic days after the spill.
Weingarten also noted a lack of evidence that anyone at BP pressed Rainey to come up with a low-ball estimate, repeating his contention that Rainey had no motive to lie. And he noted testimony that BP and the government were marshaling all possible resources to fight the spill with little regard for flow estimates that were all but impossible to determine in the early days of the disaster.
"This case never should have been brought," Weingarten said.
Federal prosecutors Robert Zink and Leo Tsao said the evidence was sound, noting that federal agents backed up their assertions with testimony under oath. Tsao discounted Weingarten's argument that there was no pressure on Rainey to lie.
"You don't need a grand conspiracy to prove criminal intent," Tsao said.
Rainey is one of a handful of people charged criminally in connection with the disaster. A former BP engineer, Kurt Mix, was convicted on one of two criminal counts in 2013 after prosecutors said he deleted text messages about the oil flow following the explosion.
His conviction was overturned because a jury forewoman tainted deadlocked deliberations by mentioning she had heard something outside the trial that affirmed her view of Mix's guilt. Prosecutors have asked an appellate court to reinstate the conviction rather than have them try Mix again.
Trial is pending for BP well site leaders Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, who have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges stemming from the 11 deaths.
Anthony Badalamenti, a former manager for Halliburton Energy Services Inc., BP's cement contractor on the rig, was sentenced to one year of probation for destroying evidence in the aftermath of the spill.