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Government Oil Supervisor Pleads Guilty

POSTED: 06:32 PM ET, 11/ 5/2008 by Derek Kravitz

A former administrator with the government agency that collects oil and natural gas royalties pleaded guilty today to accepting improper gifts from a contractor and lying about it to his supervisors.

Donald C. Howard, 58, of Destrahan, La., was a former regional supervisor of the Gulf of Mexico region for the Minerals Management Service. Howard, who oversaw federal leases for the government, was charged last month (statement) in federal court in Louisiana with making false statements.

Prosecutors allege that Howard failed to disclose more than $2,000 in out-of-state travel expenses billed to the contractor, which were far more than the $285-per-year legal limit. The court documents did not identify the contractor.

But a law-enforcement source close to the federal case identified the contractor as Houston-based Rowan Companies, Inc., an offshore drilling firm. Those same sources said Howard took part in several hunting and fishing trips with a Rowan employee. A spokesperson for the oil company did not return messages seeking comment.

Howard received the undisclosed gifts in 2004 and filed the false statement in October 2005, prosecutors said. Howard's sentencing date is set for Feb. 3. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Howard's attorneys, Richard T. Simmons Jr. and Glenn W. Burns of Metairie, La., did not return calls seeking comment.

Howard is the third former Minerals Management Service employee to be charged this year since investigators uncovered a pattern of corruption at a tiny agency office in Lakewood, Colo., near Denver. An inspector general's report (PDF) found that employees accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drug use and illicit sex with employees of the energy firms whose drilling contracts they controlled in a multi-billion-dollar program.

By Derek Kravitz |  November 5, 2008; 6:32 PM ET
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