Businessman accused of oil spill fraud

November 2, 2012 10:53:30 AM



NEW ORLEANS -- A Louisiana businessman faces a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly seeking to get BP PLC to pay him $1.4 million for supplying a helicopter that the oil giant allegedly did not authorize to pay for during its response to the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 


Federal prosecutors filed a bill of information Thursday against Bay E. Ingram, 50, of Covington charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. 


U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said Ingram's company, the Southeast Recovery Group LLC., stationed a helicopter at the Hopedale marina in St. Bernard Parish between June and November 2010. The marina was serving as a BP disaster response center. But Letten said the Southeast Recovery Group never had an agreement with BP to supply the helicopter after June 15, 2010. 


Letten accused Ingram of falsifying and forging documents to get BP to pay SRG $1.4 million. 


The forged documents included a contract between his company and a subcontractor that equipped and manned the helicopter, as well as false flight logs and manifests, authorities said. 


Ingram's helicopter was supposed to be used for oil spill response efforts by personnel with the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Letten said. 


The bill of information filed against Ingram also accuses the company of building five helipads at Hopedale for about $110,000 and then falsely billing BP for $303,000, which the company paid. 


Letten described Ingram as a middleman between the helicopter supplier and helipad contractors and BP. 


If convicted, he faces five years in prison, three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine. 


Messages left for Ingram's attorney, Christopher Beary, were not immediately answered Thursday evening. 


Ingram filed a civil lawsuit against BP in April 2011 seeking to get the oil company to pay SRG. 


In those court documents, SRG says it worked with former St. Bernard Sheriff Jack Stephens to get a helicopter to monitor cleanup efforts and track oil. At the request of Stephens, SRG says it met with Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, shortly after the April 20, 2010 spill started and that Suttles "personally reviewed the request and authorized" a contract for a helicopter to be used by parish and wildlife officials. 


SRG claimed that BP officials repeatedly assured it that the oil giant would pay for the helicopter, according to an SRG court filing. 


In March 2011, BP rejected Ingram's invoices and said that SRG did not have a contract with BP, according to a letter filed by the oil company in the civil court case.