Oil spill lawyer denies wrongdoing in handling BP claims

A lawyer accused of taking kickbacks to speed up settlement claims from the catastrophic 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill denied any wrongdoing at a federal hearing Friday contended that he never acted improperly even as he took a hefty fee for a claim that he was processing.

Lionel Sutton III testified in a case where he is accused of accepting kickbacks while he was a lawyer for a center processing damage claims against oil giant BP. Accused along with him is his wife, Christine Reitano, who also worked at the claims center.

The hearing was convened by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to look into the allegations, which were spelled out in a 2013 report commissioned by Barbier.

"I wasn't a paid insider," Sutton testified. "I did not advance any claims for anybody."

The proceedings before Barbier are not criminal in nature. None of the lawyers has been charged with a crime.

Barbier appointed former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate allegations of wrongdoing inside the claims center that was established after the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig disaster sent millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf.

Freeh accused Sutton and Reitano of working with two lawyers, Jonathan Andry and Glen Lerner, to illegally advance claims but found no misconduct by Pat Juneau, the head of the claims office.

At Friday's hearing Sutton was the only accused person to testify.

Lawyers for Freeh and the accused were expected to argue their cases further later Friday.