BP Settlement Sells Out Victims – Buries Evidence of Oil Company’s Willful Negligence

By Greg Palast at Mudflats

[Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Greg Palast led a four-continent investigation of BP PLC for Britain's television series Dispatches. From 1989-91, Palast directed the investigation of fraud charges in the Exxon Valdez grounding for Alaska Native villages.]

Some deal. BP gets the gold mine and its victims get the shaft. And a few lawyers will get vacation homes–though they won’t be so stupid as to build them on the Gulf Coast.

On Friday night, the judge-picked lawyers for 120,000 victims of the Deepwater Horizon blow-out cut a back-room deal with oil company BP PLC which will save the lawyers the hard work of a trial and save the oil giant billions of dollars. It will also save the company the threat of exposing the true and very ugly story of the Gulf of Mexico oil platform blow-out.

I have been to the Gulf and seen the damage — and the oil that BP says is gone. Miles of it. As an economist who calculated damages for plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case, I can tell you right now that there is no way, no how, that the $7.8 billion BP says it will spend on this settlement will cover that damage, the lost incomes, homes, businesses and boats, let alone the lost lives — from cancers, fetal deformities, miscarriages, and lung and skin diseases.

Two years ago, President Barack Obama forced BP to set aside at least $20 billion for the oil spill’s victims. This week’s settlement will add exactly ZERO to that fund. Indeed, BP is crowing that, adding in the sums already paid out, the company will still have spent less than the amount committed to the Obama fund.

There’s so much corrosion, mendacity and evil here in this settlement deal that I hardly know where to begin. So, let’s start with punitive damages.

I was stunned that there is no provision, as expected, for a punishment fee to by paid by BP for it’s willful negligence. In the Exxon Valdez trial, a jury awarded us $5 billion in punitives – and BP’s action, and the damage caused in the Gulf, is far, far worse.

BP now has to pay no more than proven damages. It’s like telling a bank robber, “Hey, just put back the money in the vault and all’s forgiven.”

This case screamed for punitive damages. Here’s just a couple of facts that should have been presented to a jury: For example, the only reason six hundred miles of Gulf coastline has been slimed by oil was that BP failed to have emergency oil spill containment equipment ready to roll when the Deepwater Horizon blew out. BP had promised the equipment’s readiness in writing and under oath.

And here’s the sick, sick part. This is exactly the same thing BP did in the Exxon Valdez case. It was BP, not Exxon, that was responsible for stopping the spread of oil in Alaska in 1989. In Alaska, decades ago, BP told federal regulators it would have oil spill “boom” (the rubber that corrals the spreading stuff) ready to roll out if a tanker hit. When theExxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef, BP’s promised equipment wasn’t there: BP had lied.

And in 2010, BP did it again. Instead of getting the oil contained in five hours as promised as a condition of drilling, it took five days to get the equipment in place (and that was done by the US Navy on orders of the President).

This was more than negligence: it was fraud, and by a repeat offender. Now BP is laughing all the way to the bank. And there’s more. BP mixed nitrogen into the cement which capped the well-head below the Deepwater Horizon. BP claimed to be shocked and horrified when the cement failed, releasing methane gas that blew apart the rig. BP accused the cement’s seller, Halliburton, of hiding the fact that this “quick-set” cement can blow out in deep water.

But, in an investigation that took me to Central Asia, I discovered that BP knew the quick-set cement could fail – because it had failed already in an earlier blow-out which BP covered up with the help of an Asian dictatorship. The lack of promised equipment, the prior blow-out – it all could have, should have, come out in trial.

Think about it: BP knew the cement could fail but continued to use it to save money. Over time, the savings to BP of its life-threatening methods added up to billions of dollars worldwide. BP will get to keep that savings bought at the cost of eleven men’s lives.

Other investigators have uncovered more penny-pinching, life-threatening failures by BP and its drilling buck-buddies, Halliburton and TransOcean. These include bogus “blow-out preventers” and a managerial system that could be called, “We-Don’t-Care Chaos.”

As BP had no choice but to pay proven damages and conceded as much, what exactly are the lawyers getting paid for? (Don’t be surprised if the fee requests hit a billion dollars.)

How could these lawyers let BP walk away on the cheap? The judge picked the lawyers that would settle or try the case for the 120,000 plaintiffs. His Honor side-lined the legal “A-Team,” like Cajun trial lawyer Daniel Becnel, guys with the guts, experience and financial wherewithal to go eyeball-to-eyeball with BP and not blink. Welcome to Louisiana, oil colony.

So BP walks without the civil punishment that tort law and justice demand, grinning and ready to do it again: drill on the cheap with the price paid by its workers and the public.

But stopping a trial denies the public more than the full payment due: it denies us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The President has just opened up the arctic waters of Alaska for drilling, has reopened the Gulf to deepwater platforms, and is fiddling with the idea of allowing the XL Pipeline to slice America in half.

So we need to know: Can we trust this industry?

Without a trial in the Deepwater Horizon case, we may never get the answer, never get the the full story of the prior blow-outs, the fakery in the spill response system, and other profits-first kill-later trickery that bloats the bottom line of BP and the entire drill-baby-drill industry.

***

For more on Palast’s worldwide investigation of BP and the industry in Central Asia, the Gulf, Alaska and the Amazon, read Palast’s new book,Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates and High-Finance Carnivores at www.VulturesPicnic.org.

Find Greg Palast on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Greg-Palast/87777747127) twitter at Greg_Palast (http://twitter.com/greg_palast). Support our new investigations into the best democracy money can buy, “Ballots and Billionaires” (http://www.gregpalast.com/store/)

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Furious Growth and Cost Cuts Led To BP Accidents Past and Present

A ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE investigation. “The Spill [1],” a PBS FRONTLINE documentary drawn from this reporting, airs tonight. Check local listings.

Jeanne Pascal turned on her TV April 21 to see a towering spindle of black smoke slithering into the sky from an oil platform on the oceanic expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. For hours she sat, transfixed on an overstuffed couch in her Seattle home, her feelings shifting from shock to anger

Pascal, a career Environmental Protection Agency attorney only seven weeks into her retirement, knew as much as anyone in the federal government about BP, the company that owned the well. She understood in an instant what it would take others months to grasp: In BP’s 15-year quest to compete with the world’s biggest oil companies, its managers had become deaf to risk and systematically gambled with safety at hundreds of facilities and with thousands of employees’ lives.

“God, they just don’t learn,” she remembers thinking.

Just weeks before the explosion, President Obama had announced a historic expansion of deep-water drilling in the Gulf, where BP held the majority of the drilling leases. The administration considered the environmental record of drilling companies in the Gulf to be excellent. It didn’t ask questions about BP, and it didn’t consider that the company’s long record of safety violations and environmental accidents might be important, according to Carol Browner, the White House environmental adviser.

They could have asked Jeanne Pascal.  Read the entire story here

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Scientists skeptical about BP oil plumes ‘vanishing’ from Gulf

Medical Muckraker

Non-government scientists are expressing skepticism about reports that BP’s huge mixed plumes of oil and oil-dispersant chemicals have vanished from the Gulf, the ProPublica‘s Marian Wang reported Tuesday.

Wang’s compilation of quotes from media reports:

“These are just what we call WAGs — wild-a– guesses,” Rick Steiner a retired University of Alaska professor, told the Times.

“I’m suspect if that’s accurate or not,” Ronald Kendall, director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University, told McClatchy Newspapers.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in these figures,” Lousiana State University professor James H. Cowan Jr. told McClatchy.

“If an academic scientist put something like this out there, it would get torpedoed into a billion pieces,” Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, a leading scientist on this spill, told The New York Times.

“This is a shaky report. The more I read it, the less satisfied I am with the thoroughness of the presentation. … There’s some science here, but mostly, it’s spin,” Florida State University professor Ian MacDonald told The Associated Press.

Some in the scientific community did find the report plausible. Louisiana State University emeritus professor Ed Overton peer-reviewed the report and told the AP he thought it was mostly good work, though he was uncomfortable with the precise percentages about the amount of oil left in the Gulf.

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BP Makes First Deposit to Oil Spill Compensation Fund

News Inferno

BP has finally made an initial $3 billion deposit to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill compensation fund. The company said it would make an additional $2 billion deposit in the fourth quarter.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, BP and the Obama administration are also close to a deal to use future revenues from the company’s Gulf of Mexico operations to guarantee the $20 billion fund.

Under an agreement it reached with the Obama administration earlier this summer, BP is supposed to put $5 billion a year over the next four years into an account to pay for spill-related costs, such as claims, environmental restoration and cleanup costs. The fund is to be administered by Ken Feinberg, the Washington, D.C. lawyer who oversaw the 9/11 victims compensation fund.

BP was supposed to make an initial deposit to the fund by September 30. But according to the Journal, the company chose to make an early deposit to “show its commitment to restoring the livelihoods of people affected by the worst offshore oil spill in history.”

On Monday, the company and the Justice Department announced they had completed talks to establish the fund, according to the Journal. Discussions continue, however, on how BP will guarantee its remaining obligation of $17 billion. The administration is seeking security in the form of collateral in the event that BP couldn’t meet its obligation due to financial or legal problems.

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Simmons, BP Critic, energy investment banker, dies in Maine

ROCKLAND, Maine — Matthew Simmons, an energy investment banker who espoused the peak oil theory and became an advocate for alternative energy, has died at his North Haven island home, officials said Monday. He was 67.

The founder of Houston-based Simmons & Co. International wrote the 2005 book “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” raising concerns about Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves and laying out his theory that the world was approaching peak oil production.

Two years later, Simmons founded The Ocean Energy Institute, a think tank and venture capital fund in Rockland to promote offshore wind energy research and development.

The institute is a part of the consortium led by the University of Maine, which aims to design and test floating deep-water wind turbine platforms.

“Matt Simmons was an innovative thinker who pushed ideas that have the potential to yield a more environmentally and economically sustainable future for Maine and the world,” said Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who attended the opening of the institute’s headquarters last month.

Simmons’ body was found Sunday night in his hot tub, investigators said.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner’s office concluded Monday that he died from accidental drowning with heart disease as a contributing factor.

In 1974, Simmons founded Simmons & Co. International, which grew into one of the largest investment banking companies serving the energy industry. He continued to serve as chairman emeritus until last month, when he retired to give his full energy to the Ocean Energy Institute.

“We are deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of a true visionary and friend. As a pivotal figure in the lives of many of our employees, and countless others across the energy industry, Matt will be sorely missed,” Simmons & Co. CEO Mike Frazier said in a statement.

Simmons was critical of BP PLC’s handling of the Gulf oil spill and predicted the company would file for bankruptcy. In one interview, he said the cleanup costs could top $1 trillion.

As an international energy expert, Simmons correctly predicted in 2007 that oil would surpass $100 a barrel. The following year, it peaked at $147 a barrel.

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America’s Gulf: A Toxic Crime Scene

by Stephen Lendman at the Dissident Voice

On August 4, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a Department of Commerce agency, reported that:

The vast majority of the oil from the BP oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed, much of which is in the process of being degraded… this is the direct result of the robust federal response efforts.

The same day at an AFL/CIO convention, Obama hailed the news, saying “the long battle to stop the leak and contain the oil is finally close to coming to an end.”

False. From the start, the Obama administration conspired with BP, imposing censorship and cover-up, barring the public and news media from coming within 65 feet of clean-up of “booming operations, boom, or oil spill response operations under penalty of law” without Coast Guard-authorized permission.

The agency is a virtual BP arm, now retired Admiral Thad Allen, its de facto representative as National Incident Commander, doing its bidding, suppressing the disaster’s severity, including enforcing the FAA’s mid-June announced no-fly zone, not needed if there were nothing to hide. There’s plenty, why journalists and other violators faced up to five years in prison and a $40,000 fine for telling the truth, now mostly hidden, not gone.

On August 4, responding to NOAA, Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, said the following:

The overly rosy tone of (NOAA’s) report may leave the false impression that this crisis is somehow nearing an end. But much of the oil that the government refers to has simply been broken apart and remains in the ecosystem. It’s like taking separated salad dressing and shaking up the bottle so the oil and vinegar mix. You may not be able to see (it), but it’s there.

That unseen oil, though, is what will foul the Gulf for years, (perhaps generations), eating away at the basic elements of the food chain that are the building blocks for fisheries, birds, sea turtles and mammal populations.

Louisiana State University (LSU) biological oceanographer, Robert Carney, says scientists are finding plenty of oil under Louisiana islands, beneath Florida beaches, and in unseen ocean reaches.

Biological oceanographers, Markus Huettel and Joel Kostka, discovered large oil swaths up to two feet deep on a “cleaned” Pensacola beach. With little oxygen, it’ll remain for decades. It gets trapped underground when tiny droplets penetrate porous sand or when waves wash it ashore, burying it. Huettel explained further that previous oil under beaches migrates into groundwater, causing hazards to wildlife and humans, not knowing what they’re drinking is contaminated.

He noted also that deep sea spills are “unchartered territory,” dispersants for the first time used at depths down to 5,000 feet, settling oil on the sea  floor, the mixture suspended and preserved, causing long-term harm for deep-sea animals, and disrupting a large part of the food chain.

University of South Florida (USF) chemical oceanographer, David Hollander, is also alarmed, calling the 75% claim “ludicrous.” USF scientists and Vernon Asper, University of Southern Mississippi oceanographer, were “lambasted” by NOAA and Coast Guard officials when they reported a giant undersea plume, NOAA Administrator, Jane Lubchenco, telling them to stop “speculating” when, according to Asper, “We had solid evidence, rock solid.”

Hollander said “What we learned completely changes the idea of what an oil spill is. It has gone from a two-dimensional disaster to a three-dimensional catastrophe,” NOAA and other government agencies enforcing cover-up, denial, and distorted media reports.

On August 8, Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy Director, Carol Browner, told NBC’s Meet the Press that “the vast majority of oil is gone.” On the same day, Thad Allen, on CBS’ Face the Nation, congratulated BP for a job well done, criticizing only its PR errors, smoothing the way to end the oil drilling moratorium, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation Director Michael Bromwich saying expect it “significantly in advance of November 30.”

Hazardous Toxins Threaten Gulf Coast Residents

Combined with millions of gallons of Corexit, a deadly dispersant, the mix is extremely toxic and dangerous, the Gulf poisoned and potentially lethal for decades, perhaps generations. Nothing in it should be ingested, nor is living close by safe, what BP, Washington and the major media won’t explain. As a result, the health and welfare of millions of residents are at risk as well as anyone eating Gulf seafood. Responsible federal and state officials would ban it. Instead the all-clear’s been given. Don’t be fooled.

Marine toxicologist, Riki Ott, said if she lived in the area with children, she’d leave. On July 31, she flew over affected parts of the Gulf with a documentary filmmaker and local shrimper, a man who grew up the area, fearing his livelihood was destroyed, saying:

I’ve fished in all these waters – everywhere you can see. It’s all oiled. This is the worst I’ve seen. This is a heartbreak….

At low altitudes, oil was visible everywhere, despite most of it submerged. “As far as we could see: Oil…. The official story does not match the reality (below or what local residents report). BP has created a Frankenstein.”

Minimally, over 44,000 square miles of ocean are contaminated, an area comparable to Ohio or Pennsylvania. Some estimates say nearly 80,000, more than Florida and Massachusetts combined, the health hazard immense, the waters causing “internal bleeding and hemorrhaging in workers and dolphins alike,” according to senior EPA analyst, Hugh Kaufman, a rare responsible official.

On Democracy Now, he accused BP and the administration of cover-up and deceit, including using dispersants “to hide the volume of oil that has been released,” far more than official reports, to save BP up to billions in fines. “That’s the purpose of using dispersants, not to protect the public health or environment. Quite the opposite.”

After 9/11, Kaufman was ombudsman investigator for Ground Zero, exposing EPA lies about air safety, causing widespread illnesses and death, seeing a repeat for Gulf residents, “EPA administrators saying the air is safe and the water is safe.”

False, because of “dispersants mixed with oil and air pollution.” The official lie endangers tens of thousands, maybe millions, retired toxicologist and forensic chemist, John Laseter, explaining that the oil-solvent mix sticks on biological tissue, wreaking havoc.

Dispersants make oil penetrate more deeply into skin, a “delivery system” into the anatomies of humans and wildlife, the combination more deadly than either alone, some observers believing far greater quantities of dispersants have been used than reported, J. Speer Williams, for one, in his July 22 Rense.com article titled “Who Killed The Gulf?”

Explaining the ongoing dark side of a disturbing story, Williams cites Christopher Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution associate scientist of marine chemistry and geochemistry saying BP used one million BARRELS of Corexit or 42 million gallons, not the two million gallons reported, some reports claiming less. If he’s right, the toxicity and long-term threat far exceed the worst estimates of reliable scientists, a hellish nightmare for the entire Gulf coast area, Dr. Seth Forman and others comparing Corexit to Agent Orange, the deadly defoliant used in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Millions of gallons were sprayed with devastating effects, its deadly dioxin one of the most toxic known substances, a potent carcinogenic human immune system suppressant. It accumulates in adipose tissue and the liver, alters living cell structures, causes congenital disorders and birth defects, and contributes to diseases like cancer and type two diabetes. In the 1960s and 70s, it affected millions exposed, Southeast Asians and Americans alike. Expect a repeat today, what BP, the administration and media suppress.

Hugh Kaufman sees tens of thousands of Gulf coast residents at risk and anyone eating the seafood. They’ll “end up with cancer, genetic mutations, or some other mysterious unexplained illnesses (years later).”

After the Exxon Valdez disaster, most workers and others exposed to dispersants and oil died young, their average age about 50, another shocking story never reported, a window into the far greater calamity ahead, the Gulf catastrophe infinitely greater, the equivalent of three – four Exxon Valdez incidents a week, using Exxon’s 11 million gallon figure. The state of Alaska’s conservative estimate was over 30 million gallons, also unreported.

Today, independent scientists report hazardous levels of oil and dispersants in the Gulf, ashore, and in the air, including carcinogenic benzene and oil vapors (Volatile Organic Compounds — VOCs), as early as 1948, the American Petroleum Institute saying, “The only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.”

Now it’s off the charts contaminating a wide area, one element in a deadly toxic brew, the administration and BP claiming the threat is over, the environment safe, normality fast returning — the official lie, the Obama administration fronting for BP, complicit in its crimes, contributing to a greater disaster instead of preventing it by enforcing responsible policies in the first place, ones absent, assuring other calamities from future oil drilling operations, especially offshore in deep water, where technology and safety concerns haven’t kept up with the rush to plunge deep holes in the earth, damn the hazards and millions of lives at risk.

Final Thoughts

The lives and livelihoods of Gulf residents are at risk, the entire area economically damaged, BP establishing a paltry $20 billion compensation fund for victims, containing a slim $3 billion deposit, the idea being to help BP, not them, claims czar Kenneth Feinberg appointed to assure it, a man notorious for serving wealth and power interests.

Earlier, he managed a similar account for 9/11 victims, then later was appointed pay czar for bailed out Wall Street banks and other companies. Like BP ombudsman, Stanley Sporkin, he’s a notorious “fixer,” fronting for power, not people, earlier negotiating a lawsuit settlement for Agent Orange producers, benefitting them, not affected veterans, getting $1,200 not to litigate.

He later performed similar services for AH Robins, maker of the Dalkon Shield, injuring 235,000 women with potentially lethal pelvic infections, a settlement giving most of them $725 or less.

He’s now point man in charge of doing to Gulf residents what he did earlier, saving corporate criminals billions, getting victims to waive their right to sue in return for amounts too meager to matter. In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, he said:

When I go to the Gulf, I hear a lot about the underground economy. ‘Mr. Feinberg, I got paid $5,000 a month all cash. Do I have a claim?’ Well, you have to prove your claim. There’s nothing illegal about all cash business, but do you have your tax return…. Do you have documentary evidence….Will your ship captain vouch for the $5,000…. I need something. I can’t be paying claims that can’t be proven. And I can tell you that this is going to be a big issue.

Indeed it will, reports confirming Feinberg on BP’s payroll, his mandate being to deny, deny, deny, or pay minimum amounts, mostly in lump sums, victims waiving their right to litigate, even those losing livelihoods and years of lost income.

Washington is corporate-occupied territory, politicians bribed with millions of dollars, favors, and lucrative revolving door jobs out of office. As long as a government/industry cabal runs America, wealth and power interests alone will matter, letting companies like BP destroy the environment, our welfare and lives, expendable for greater profits, assured under Democrats and Republicans, two wings of the money party.

On May 4, National Geographic asked if the “Gulf Oil Spill (was) a ‘Dead Zone in the Making,’ ” saying if it can’t be contained, it could happen. An early August update explained that beneath the surface lies:

a turbid cloud of stirred-up sediment and dead sea creatures. Flaccid jellyfish floated on the flat currents of tiny corpses. On the sea bottom the waters were gray and terribly empty. No coral, no fish, no algae, nothing but the noxious oily streaks of red tides and lethal plankton blooms. Everything in this 7,000 square-mile zone (the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined) has died from lack of oxygen. It (was) if every person in a city were suddenly sucked dry of air and suffocated….

Other researchers agree, saying the Gulf’s dead zone doubled in the last year, and may be larger than estimated. Caused by hypoxia (low oxygen levels), it stretches across the Mississippi River Delta along Louisiana’s coastline into Texas. According to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, it’s the world’s second largest and growing, covering about 7,700 square miles, an area nearly the size of New Jersey. Marine biologists attribute it to oil and dispersants, as well as nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer runoffs, soil erosion, animal wastes, sewage, and seasonal weather, notably hurricanes and floods.

They occur globally, but the Gulf approaches the largest ever recorded in 1985 at just over 8,000 square miles, some scientists believing that number’s been eclipsed but not verified, most reputable ones agreeing that a vast area has been poisoned, creating alarming hazards for wildlife and millions of people. It’ll be years before the full impact is known, but it’s guaranteed to be catastrophic.

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Attorney Mike Papantonio Says BP is a Criminal, Sociopathic and Predatory Corporation

As of July 28, BP has yet to deposit any money in the oil spill compensation fund and Feinberg has stated that he could not begin making payments to businesses and individuals until BP makes a deposit.

Kathleen Wells, JD  Huffington Post

Environmental lawyer, advocate for working Americans, and host of Ring of Fire, Mike Papantonio and his firm have handled thousands of cases throughout the nation, including asbestos, breast implants, pharmaceutical litigation, factory farming, securities fraud, the Florida tobacco litigation, etc., and has received numerous multi-million dollar verdicts.

Recently, he has been making frequent appearances on The Ed Show and Hardball to discuss the ramifications and implications of British Petroleum’s oil spill, in an effort to hold BP accountable for the damage that they have caused to the environment and persons, as well as to expose the lies that BP continues to feed the news media.

Kathleen Wells: You filed a class action lawsuit against BP. Talk to me about that suit, and differentiate it from the trust fund.

Mike Papantonio: I think the most important thing is: We filed a RICO case.  The RICO case is much different from anything on the table.  The RICO case says that the conduct of BP, Halliburton, and Transocean is really not just negligence, but it’s something that — it’s the same kind of suit you would use to go after the mob or a drug cartel or organized crime.

It’s a civil RICO case.  It isn’t unique to Florida, but Florida has the most progressive – certainly the most far-reaching – civil RICO case in the country.  That’s the case that I’m focusing on primarily.

Continue reading

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