Accusations Fly in|BP Oil Spill Fallout | Courthouse News Service
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Accusations Fly in|BP Oil Spill Fallout

HOUSTON (CN) - A Vietnamese-American fisherman sued two Texas law firms, claiming she was among the 44,000 people whose names they conspired to misappropriate in a quest for $2 billion in damages after the BP oil spill.

Thim T. Nguyen sued John Cracken and the Cracken Law Firm, of Dallas; Bob Hilliard, and Hilliard Munoz Gonzalez, of Corpus Christi, on March 3 in Harris County Court.

She claims Cracken and Hilliard conspired with attorney Mikal Watts and the Watts Guerra law firm to steal the identities of 44,510 Vietnamese Americans, including her, for the BP oil spill litigation.'

Hilliard called the lawsuit a "baseless bluff" from Nguyen's attorney, Minh Tam Tammy Tran, after her "attempt to extort a multimillion dollar settlement failed."

"Ms. Tran is addicted to headlines and allergic to facts," Hilliard told Courthouse News in a statement. "She is incapable of proving this case. Her claims are false and, when her threats to sue so as to attempt to extort a multi-million dollar settlement failed, her baseless bluff was called.

"Now she is faced with proving the unprovable. These are fictitious allegations and her careless use of the legal system is a disservice to the folks she alleges to represent, and will not go well. I invite her to the courthouse and encourage her to bring whatever proof she is capable of mustering," Hilliard added.

In October 2015, a federal grand jury in Mississippi indicted Watts on charges of identity theft and making false claims to seek damages from BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

A federal judge in 2010 appointed Watts and 18 other attorneys to the plaintiffs' steering committee for the BP oil spill multidistrict litigation. Watts, of San Antonio, stepped down from the committee in 2013 when the Secret Service began investigating him, Courthouse News reported after the indictment was announced.

Nguyen says in her lawsuit that Cracken is "Attorney No. 1" and Hilliard "Attorney No. 2" in the Watts indictment, which was unsealed on Oct. 29.

Nugyen's complaint states: "Specifically, Watts, Cracken, and Hilliard were involved in the mass misappropriation of and/or conspiracy to misappropriate identities of many thousands of Gulf Coast Vietnamese-Americans, identity theft, and fraud for their own financial gain. Cracken and Hilliard misappropriated and/or conspired to misappropriate the names of tens of thousands of Vietnamese hoping to gain $2,010,538,000.00.

"Defendants Cracken and Hilliard caused Watts to file over 25 complaints with various courts in Houston, Texas during the five-month period between June 3, 2010 and Oct. 4, 2010, using the names of 44,510 Vietnamese-Americans whom they never represented. Defendants paid $10,900,000.00 to runners Greg Warren and Kristy Le to obtain these names and identities."

In a Dec. 29, 2010 email to Watts, Hilliard and others, Cracken wrote: "'We don't have 41K "clients;" we have a list of 41K names whom we hope KL [Kristy Le] et al can convert into "clients" over time,'" according to the complaint. (Brackets in complaint.)

Nguyen says that Watts' indictment stemmed from accusations that he knew many possible plaintiffs were "ghost clients."

In a section of her 19-page complaint called "critical facts," Nguyen says: "On April 26, 2011, the evidence was clear, regarding Hilliard and Cracken, that: out of 40,002 Plaintiff Profile Forms submitted by Watts to the GCCF [Gulf Coast Claims Facility], 12,834 were invalid, and 25,494 claim forms with names transferred to the GCCF were also invalid, because 'Watts Guerra did not complete the claims submission process with respect to any of the 25,494 potential claims, ... they have never been submitted to the GCCF for processing.' As for the remaining 1,377 alleged clients, 287 were clients of other firms, and the remaining 1,088 names, Watts and WG 'had no engagement letters.'" (Citations omitted, attributed to April 26, 2011 letter from GCCF counsel to all defense and plaintiffs' counsel, including BP's.)

Finally, according to Nguyen's complaint, on March 2, 2012 Watts sent an email to Hilliard, Cracken and others, stating: "we negotiated a fund of $2.3 billion ... Hope this makes everyone feel better about our eggshell plaintiff docket."

Attorney Tran, when told that Hilliard called the lawsuit a baseless bluff, denied it, telling Courthouse News: "I am just a humble country Vietnamese woman / mother / grandmother and an unknown lawyer who is honored to serve my Vietnamese clients who are voiceless and defenseless."

Nguyen seeks $100 million in punitive damages for conspiracy, fraud and misappropriation of her identity.

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