Sept. 20--NEW ORLEANS -- A former Halliburton manager was charged Thursday with destroying evidence after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, as the company itself pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor and was ordered to serve three years' probation and pay a $200,000 fine.
Anthony Badalamenti, 61, of Katy, was charged in a criminal information, which usually indicates a defendant is cooperating with investigators.
His attorney, Tai Park, declined to comment on whether his client has reached a plea deal with prosecutors. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr also declined to comment.
Badalamenti is the fifth person to be charged in the oil spill case. Four current or former BP employees also face charges and are awaiting trial.
The latest development -- exactly three years after the blown-out well that caused the spill was sealed permanently -- came as U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo in New Orleans approved Halliburton's guilty plea to a destruction of evidence charge and imposed the sentence the oil field services firm negotiated with the government.
Attorney Marc Mukasey entered the plea for Halliburton, which supplied the cement for the undersea well that blew out in the Gulf 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
With its plea agreement accepted by Milazzo, Halliburton escaped criminal prosecution for any conduct leading up to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, despite its cement job being faulted in independent investigations.
Provided Halliburton complies with the terms of the deal, prosecutors agreed to end their criminal probe of the company, which is based in Houston and Dubai. In a statement, Halliburton said the closure "holds significant positive impacts for the company, its employees and shareholders."
The $200,000 fine is the maximum for the misdemeanor violation.
Milazzo said that in considering sentencing, the law does not allow her to consider whether prosecutors should have pursued additional charges.
At the time of the disaster, BP was in the process of temporarily abandoning its deep-water Macondo well. Halliburton supplied the cement used to plug the well. The seal failed to keep oil and gas from entering the well, triggering the blowout and the explosion on the rig.
Federal prosecutors say that after the well blew out, Halliburton looked at whether the number of centralizers used on the final production casing -- pipe cemented into the well bore -- could have contributed to the blowout. Halliburton had recommended BP use 21 centralizers. BP used six.
Prosecutors say that the month after the April 20, 2010, blowout, a Halliburton official, identified in Thursday's charging documents as Badalamenti, told a senior program manager to run two computer simulations. They indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers. The manager was directed to, and did, destroy those results, the Justice Department said.
In June 2010, similar evidence also was destroyed when Halliburton's cementing technology director, identified in the new documents as Badalamenti, asked an employee to run more simulations and "get rid of" the results, federal prosecutors say.
Facing civil damages
Halliburton's plea Thursday was among a series of carefully scripted criminal prosecutions involving the three main companies that were involved in the disaster. Thursday's hearing lasted only 30 minutes.
The companies negotiated wording in their admissions of guilt that were designed to accept some responsibility for what happened while also seeking to limit the effects of those admissions on the ongoing civil litigation in the case.
The companies face the possibility of having to pay billions of dollars in civil damages, if U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier declares they were grossly negligent.
Second phase of trial
The first phase of a civil trial over the disaster, which dealt with assigning responsibility, wrapped up in April.
The second phase, to determine how much oil spilled, starts Sept. 30, in a courtroom across the hall from the one where Halliburton pleaded guilty.
Only BP, which owned the well that blew out, was convicted of a felony. The British oil giant has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and was ordered to pay a $4 billion criminal fine. It also agreed to pay $525 million to settle related securities violations.
Transocean, the Swiss drilling contractor that owned the rig that exploded and sank, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act through negligent discharge of oil into the Gulf. Eleven rig workers were killed in the explosion.
Cement job criticized
Now that Halliburton's guilty plea is out of the way, the government could suspend the company from securing new federal contracts, though prosecutors have agreed to advise agencies that the company provided significant cooperation in the criminal inquiry and accepted its responsibility.
Halliburton has faced heavy criticism for its cement job. Among other things, a presidentially appointed oil spill commission concluded that Halliburton should have considered redesigning the foam slurry used in the Macondo well before pumping it. Independent tests as part of the panel's probe found that the cement mix was unstable.