Three Convicted of Conspiracy to Defraud Gulf Oil Spill Fund
BIRMINGHAM—A federal jury on Monday convicted three people of conspiracy and fraud for their family run scheme to steal more than $3 million from the claims fund established by British Petroleum for victims of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr.
Following a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, the jury deliberated about seven hours and returned guilty verdicts on all 55 counts against MARCELLA TRUSS, 53, her husband, MARTEE DAVIS, 42, both of Grand Bay, Ala., and Marcella Truss’ brother, HOWARD LENARD CARROWAY, 42, of Mobile. Sentencing dates have not been set.
All three were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud occurring between August 2010 and December 2011 for filing false claims with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Evidence at trial showed the oil spill fund paid almost $2 million on the fraudulent claims. The jury also convicted Truss, Davis and Carroway of aggravated identity theft in carrying out the scheme.
The jury convicted Truss on 31 counts of wire fraud for submitting, or causing to be submitted, false claims to the GCCF and on one count of mail fraud related to a check received as part of the scheme. Davis was convicted on three wire fraud counts.
Truss and Davis were convicted of laundering money stolen from the GCCF. Carroway was convicted on two counts of obstructing justice for telling recruits in the scheme to lie to prosecutors. He also was convicted on five wire fraud counts.
BP owned the Macondo Oil Well where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in 2010. BP established the GCCF in June 2010 to administer and settle claims made against the company by individuals or business for losses, damages or other costs resulting from the massive oil spill.
“The people convicted Monday saw a disaster that harmed the Gulf of Mexico, much of its coastline and thousands of people, and their choice was to exploit the disaster and steal from the fund intended to help its victims,” Vance said. “We place a high priority on investigating and prosecuting fraud related to natural and man-made disasters to ensure that funds available to help victims of those tragedies do not fall into the hands of criminals,” she said.
“Those who seek to scam benefits intended for honest citizens genuinely affected by disasters can expect the FBI to be right behind them, and ultimately to face the same result as those convicted today,” said Schwein.
Truss, Davis and Carroway originally were charged along with two other people, Truss’ son, Robert Truss III, 26, of Houston, and Cedric Dion Ravizee, 37, of Birmingham. Robert Truss pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud and mail fraud. Ravizee pleaded guilty in June to one count of wire fraud.
This week’s guilty verdicts bring to 20 the number of people convicted in the Northern District of Alabama on charges related to the scheme to defraud the GCCF. Marcella and Robert Truss, Davis and Carroway recruited the 16 other defendants to provide personal information that was used to file false claims. Those recruited then received claim payments and provided a portion of the payments to the ringleaders.
All of the claims falsely stated that the individual had worked for a company called Built by Request and had lost wages because of the Deepwater Horizon incident. Marcella Truss owned BBR and dissolved the company after the scheme played out.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for wire fraud and mail fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The penalty for aggravated identity theft is two years in prison added to any sentence imposed for the underlying felony. The maximum penalty for obstruction of justice is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The money-laundering charge for which Davis was convicted carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000, or twice the value of the money involved in the crime, whichever is greater. The money-laundering charge for which Marcella Truss was convicted carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.
The FBI investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Henry Cornelius, Jacquelyn M. Hutzell and Xavier O. Carter are prosecuting the case.