Lindor submitted as many as 700 suspicious claims, mostly for low-income workers who each paid him a processing fee of $300, a prosecutor said in federal court last week. As a result, Lindor and the other South Florida claimants were paid about $3 million from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, established by BP after the protracted Deepwater Horizon spill.
Lindor, arrested earlier this month, is among nearly 110 people nationwide who have been charged with defrauding the BP oil-spill fund program over the last two years, according to the Justice Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald said Lindor filed "fraudulent documents" as he allegedly fleeced the $20 billion compensation program set up by BP for oil-spill victims in an agreement with the Obama administration.
The prosecutor said Lindor, 41, committed "multiple frauds" as he engineered an "affinity crime," noting the majority of people who filed the loss claims through his business, Noula Inc., were, like him, of Haitian descent and lived in South Florida. In court, Watts-Fitzgerald also cast doubt about the general validity of their claims because they lived so far away from the spill off the Gulf Coast.
Under the BP fund program, any person or business in the United States or foreign countries could file compensation claims for lost wages or other economic damage caused by the disaster as long as they submitted proof.
Lindor's Miami attorney, Joel DeFabio, said that he and his client "looked forward to defending the case."
"It seems that the allegations in this case are on par with BP's continued representation that its rigs were safe," DeFabio said, adding that he was "skeptical of the government's claim that the oil spill had no effect on people's wages in the Keys area."
In other South Florida criminal cases, suspects have been accused of stealing the identities of others to file false claims with the BP fund.
Among them: A Miami federal jury in June convicted Joseph Harvey and Anja Karin Kannell of using the "assumed identities" of actual people living in the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to file fraudulent claims for millions of dollars in lost wages stemming from the spill. They collected about $700,000 in BP payments, authorities say.
The administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which was established in August 2010 and dissolved in March, said fraud was an inevitable part of applications seeking BP funds.
"Over the years, I've realized that anytime you establish a very generous public compensation program, it will trigger a certain amount of fraudulent activity," said Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington attorney appointed by BP and the White House to serve as the fund's claims administrator.
Rattling off statistics, Feinberg noted that the claims facility found about 18,000 individual applications that "satisfied our suspicions of fraud." After facility investigators reviewed them, Feinberg said he referred about 4,000 of those applications to the Justice Department for criminal review because they included "doctored" paperwork.
Asked how some suspected criminals were able to bilk the BP fund program, Feinberg said: "You can't catch everybody. Inevitably in a program like the GCCF, mistakes are made and certain fraudulent applications are paid."