NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was appointed Tuesday to investigate alleged misconduct by a lawyer who helped run BP's multibillion-dollar settlement fund.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier issued an order naming Freeh, who now runs a consulting firm, a "special master" for the investigation. In another high-profile case, Freeh recently led a university-sanctioned probe of the Pennsylvania State University sex abuse scandal.
Oil spill claims administrator Patrick Juneau announced last month that his office is investigating allegations that an attorney on his staff received a portion of settlement proceeds for claims he had referred to a law firm before he started working on the settlement program.
Freeh was a federal judge in New York before serving as FBI director from 1993 to 2001. He founded his consulting firm, Freeh Group International Solutions LLC, in 2007.
After being appointed Tuesday, Freeh met in the judge's chambers with Barbier, BP representatives and top plaintiff attorneys. He had no comment afterward.
BP had called for an independent review of the allegations. A company spokesman said in a statement that it was pleased with the appointment to try to ensure the integrity of the claims process.
"We believe that Judge Freeh's experience on the federal bench and as director of the FBI make him ideally suited to conduct a thorough investigation into the recent allegations of unethical and potentially criminal behavior within the program," BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said in the statement.
In 2011, Penn State's board of trustees hired Freeh to conduct its internal probe of the university's handling of allegations that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had been molesting boys for years.
In July 2012, Freeh issued a report that accused the school's legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno, and other top Penn State officials of engaging in a cover-up to avoid bad publicity. Paterno's family and other targets of Freeh's investigation vehemently denied the report's conclusions.
Barbier's appointment of Freeh is a victory for BP as it wages an aggressive campaign to challenge what could be billions of dollars in settlement payouts to Gulf Coast businesses with claims arising from the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The top attorneys representing plaintiffs in the spill settlement, Stephen Herman and James Roy, said in a statement: "We welcome Mr. Freeh's appointment, and are confident that any impropriety, if confirmed, will prove to be an isolated incident.
"We continue to have full confidence in Pat Juneau, who for more than a year, has led the Court Supervised Settlement Program with the utmost integrity, competence and thoroughness."
Juneau said in a statement "we wholeheartedly endorse the investigation by Mr. Louis Freeh. Since we initiated the Deepwater Horizon Claims Process on June 4, 2012, our mission has been to process claims in a fair, efficient and transparent manner. This type of investigation is consistent with our goal of transparency of the claims process."
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