NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A businessman was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison for a plot in which he fraudulently billed BP for roughly $1.4 million for use of a helicopter after the company's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bay Ingram, who owned Southeast Recovery Group, had faced a maximum of five years in prison following his guilty plea last year to a conspiracy charge. U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance imposed his prison sentence and also ordered the Covington man to pay a total of $463,271 in restitution to BP and Rotorcraft Leasing Company, which provided Ingram with the helicopter and its crew.
Ingram, 50, billed BP for a helicopter that the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries were supposed to use after the spill. Prosecutors say he falsified and forged documents to justify inflated invoices he submitted to the London-based oil giant in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, which killed 11 workers and triggered the nation's worst offshore oil spill.
Ingram also is accused of billing BP more than $300,000 for the construction of five helipads that only cost around $110,000.
Ingram told Vance that he has always tried to live his life as a "law-abiding citizen."
"I take full and complete responsibility for my actions," he said. "Whatever you decide, I'll accept. And I'll do it with grace, and I'll do it with character."
In August 2010, BP paid Ingram roughly $113,000 for the use of the helicopter. But the company refused to pay subsequent invoices that he submitted without securing the proper authorization or approval for continued use of the chopper.
Ingram tried to convince BP to pay the other invoices by presenting it with a forged contract and altered flight logs, according to a court filing. He also tried to dupe his suppliers, including Rotarcraft Leasing, into believing they would be paid by sending them emails under the name of a fictitious person purporting to be an auditor for a BP contractor, prosecutors say.
Ingram already has paid full restitution of $149,179 to BP and $314,091 to Rotarcraft Leasing, said his attorney, Pat Fanning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Chester said Rotarcraft Leasing is a small company that was "teetering on the edge of failure" as a result of Ingram's scheme. BP also was a victim of the crime even though it balked at paying the additional $1.4 million that Ingram had billed for the helicopter.
"BP was trying to do the right thing," Chester said. "It certainly did not need to be taken advantage of."
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison term ranging from two years to 30 months, but Vance agreed to give Ingram a more lenient sentence. She cited his lack of criminal record and history of "many charitable acts and good works," including paying the tax bill for an elderly couple who lost their home and paying the private-school tuition for a friend's son.
"Most of these acts were done anonymously," Vance said.
Chester said Ingram deserved a sentence that fell within the guidelines. His success as a businessman and financial resources shouldn't be grounds for leniency, the prosecutor argued.
"If anything, it weighs in favor of the opposite," Chester added.
Ingram is scheduled to report to prison on June 3. His sentencing hearing was held down the hall from the courtroom where a different judge is presiding over a civil trial over the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
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