NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former BP engineer charged with deleting text messages about the company's response to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is asking for a federal judge's permission to travel freely throughout the U.S. while he is free on bond.
Earlier this month, a magistrate in New Orleans ordered Kurt Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, to limit his travel to Louisiana, Texas, Massachusetts and New York after a prosecutor claimed he had intended to leave the country for a job in Australia and wouldn't return.
But in a court filing late Thursday, Mix's attorneys argue the travel restrictions aren't warranted because prosecutors haven't shown he poses a flight risk.
"Throughout the entirety of the Government's investigation, Mix has gone to great lengths to comply with the Government's request that he remain in the United States, oftentimes at great personal sacrifice to him and his family," the lawyers wrote. "Simply put, Mix's conduct over the course of the Government's investigation utterly refutes the Government's assertion that he presents a risk of flight."
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. didn't immediately rule on Mix's request.
Mix, who was freed on $100,000 bond following his arrest in Texas on April 24, pleaded not guilty on May 3 to two counts of obstruction of justice. Each count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
During Mix's arraignment, defense attorney Joan McPhee said her client had a job with Apache Corp. waiting for him in Australia but "sat patiently at home for several months" because he knew he was the target of a federal probe.
Prosecutors, however, said they learned from Mix's lawyers that he was no longer willing to wait and planned to accept the job offer. They also noted that Mix's wife is a native of China who has family in that country and that Mix had applied for a green card to Canada as recently as March
Mix's attorneys accuse prosecutors of distorting the facts. They said Mix first applied for Canadian permanent residency status in November 2009 — five months before the deadly blowout of BP PLC's Macondo well on April 20, 2010 — and received a Canadian visa before he was identified as a target of the government's probe.
They also said a prosecutor's claim that Mix intended to go to Australia and never return "lacks any basis in fact."
"In sum, Magistrate Judge (Daniel) Knowles's order was based on an inaccurate and misleading factual record," they wrote.
Mix worked on BP's efforts to stop the leak after the blowout triggered the nation's worst offshore oil spill. The criminal charges against him are the first in the Justice Department's investigation of the disaster.
His indictment accuses him of deleting text messages to a supervisor and a contractor to prevent them from being used in a federal grand jury probe of the spill. The FBI says a text message Mix deleted indicated BP's blown-out well was spewing far more oil than the company was telling the public.