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La. shrimper pleads guilty to oil spill claims fraud

Slidell's Casey Thonn admits collecting $355k in fraudulent spill claims, pleads guilty to 2 counts of wire fraud
BARATARIA BAY, LA - APRIL 13: The sun sets over wetlands in Barataria Bay April 13, 2011 in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. Barataria Bay and its fragile wetlands was one of the hardest hit areas in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion which killed eleven crew members. 206 million gallons of oil eventually spilled into the Gulf of Mexico until the BP well was finally sealed. Residents report that oil still washes up onto the beach after storms. April 20th marks the one-year anniversary of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

ID=16939791NEW ORLEANS -- Slidell shrimper Casey Thonn pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of wire fraud for collecting more than $355,000 under the BP oil spill claims settlement, according to documents filed in federal court.

Thonn admitted guilt after U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite's office charged him with oil spill claims fraud. Prosecutors said Thonn filed a false income tax return in 2009 showing he made $156,000 from shrimping in 2009. He then showed a loss of income in 2010, the year of the BP oil spill that shut down Gulf shrimping, and falsely increased his compensation from $885 to more than $190,000, prosecutors said.

His illegal gain was $355,251.99, prosecutors said in the plea agreement. He received more than $357,000, but U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ordered the money returned to BP in April.

Thonn's case took on special prominence because it was discovered by former FBI Director Louis Freeh during his investigation into influence-peddling inside the court-appointed claims administrator's office. Claims Administrator Patrick Juneau's former deputy, Lionel "Tiger" Sutton, received a "finder's fee" of $35,700 by Thonn's attorneys Glen Lerner and Jon Andry for working on Thonn's claim before Sutton was hired by Juneau, Freeh said.

Freeh said that payment, along with actions Sutton took when working in the claims office, were improper and Sutton was forced to resign.

Freeh cleared Juneau of any wrongdoing, but BP is trying to get him removed as claims administrator, in part because his office has not been "free of corruption," BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

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