NEW ORLEANS -- The Justice Department launched a sweeping and costly criminal investigation after BP's rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and caused the nation's worst offshore oil disaster. For roughly two years, a task force of FBI agents and prosecutors occupied an entire floor of a high-rise building across from the federal courthouse in New Orleans.
The government did secure a landmark criminal settlement and record civil penalties against the energy giant, which BP said would cost the corporation billions of dollars. But in terms of individual criminal responsibility, only four mostly lower-ranking employees faced charges, and even those cases unraveled before skeptical jurors and judges.
The Justice Department's latest setback was self-inflicted: At the request of prosecutors, a judge agreed Wednesday to dismiss manslaughter charges against two supervisors who were working on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig when it exploded in April 2010.
The decision makes it increasingly likely that nobody will serve a day in prison for the disaster.
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"This is a devastating loss for the government and is a reflection that, despite all good intentions the government may have, sometimes tragedies are just tragedies," said Michael Magner, a former federal prosecutor in New Orleans who represented the only BP executive who was charged, winning his acquittal this year on a count of making false statements to investigators.
Relatives of the victims were less charitable.
"As a result of this court proceeding today, no man will ever spend a moment behind bars for killing 11 men for reasons based entirely on greed," said Keith Jones, whose son Gordon Jones died in the rig explosion. He attended Wednesday's hearing with his other children, and expressed disappointment that prosecutors dropped the most serious charges.
Donald Vidrine, one of the two rig supervisors indicted on manslaughter charges, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act. A lawyer for the other rig supervisor, Robert Kaluza, said his client will fight the same remaining charge at a trial scheduled to start in February.
The cases against two other BP employees already have been resolved.
Former BP executive David Rainey was acquitted in June of manipulating calculations to match a far-too-low estimate of the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf. A judge dismissed a related charge, that Rainey obstructed a congressional investigation of the spill.
Former BP engineer Kurt Mix was convicted of obstruction of justice in 2013 for deleting a string of text messages, but allegations of juror misconduct led a judge to order a new trial, and Mix ultimately cut a deal with prosecutors, who agreed to drop the obstruction charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Mix pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge and was sentenced to six months of probation.
Anthony Badalamenti, a former manager for Halliburton Energy Services Inc., BP�s cement contractor on the rig, was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor -- destroying evidence in the aftermath of the spill.