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Why Isn't BP Under Criminal Investigation?

BP is a convicted serial environmental criminal. Why is there no criminal investigation?

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Ivan Vikin is the EPA's special agent-in-charge assigned to the Dallas office that would have jurisdiction over the Gulf disaster. His voicemail said he was "traveling on official business," which may indicate he is in fact conducting a preliminary investigation. He did not return calls for comment. An EPA senior criminal investigator who works in another office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said officials in the criminal division "are under direct orders not to talk about this case."

"We were told to direct all questions [about the Gulf disaster] to headquarters," the EPA senior criminal investigator said. "But I can tell you that a criminal investigation has not been approved and for the life of me I can't understand why."

An EPA spokesperson did not return numerous calls for comment on whether Vikin has initiated a criminal investigation. Asked whether a criminal investigation could be proceeding, but conducted under the cover of secrecy, West said, based on his experience, if that were the case it would be "damn near impossible" to contain leaks.

"Sure, it's possible but highly unlikely," West said. "We're not hearing about guys with a gun and a badge knocking on doors and asking questions or subpoenas being issued for documents. If that were taking place we would know about it, especially on something this big. You're just not hearing about it and that's the first clue that a criminal investigation isn't happening."

Wojnicz agreed. He said if there was a criminal investigation the media would "be all over it."

"You can try, but you can't keep something like this secret," he said. "And you would think that this administration may do themselves a favor if they announced an investigation because of the public relations nightmare they are dealing with over their handling of it."

West said it's also possible that people in government have been saying "'if we start a criminal investigation then BP will clam up and we will lose their cooperation and right now we just need to stop the flow of oil and conduct a criminal investigation later."

"I've heard that argument over and over during my tenure and I challenged it and said it was bullshit. The EPA tried to pull that with me when I sent an agent up to the North Slope after the pipeline rupture saying my criminal investigators were 'getting in the way.' It's a ridiculous statement. Criminal investigators work with emergency responders all the time and do not get in the way. It takes experience to know how to challenge this kind of push back when you're faced with it. If that were the case with the Gulf, the criminal investigator could say 'if you keep it up I may have to make an obstruction of justice referral to the US attorney.' But who has the balls to do that?"

A Powerful Company

Jeanne Pascal was the debarment counsel at the EPA's Seattle office who spent more than a decade working on issues related to environmental crimes BP had been convicted of.

Debarment is a process that happens when a company is convicted of a crime and prohibited from receiving government contracts for a certain time period. Pascal first started working on debarment with BP when the company was convicted of a felony in connection with illegally dumping hazardous waste in the late 1990s in Alaska.

In an interview, Pascal said there "doesn't appear to be a criminal investigation and there should be."

"This is a company that views itself as above the law," Pascal said. "Now why is that? The only thing I can come up with to explain the failure to launch a criminal investigation is that BP has so much political influence. Congress needs to step up if the president won't do the right thing. The FBI ought to be investigating this matter criminally along with EPA and [Department of Interior]. This is the fifth major incident committed by this company in 10 years."

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