Louisiana Court to BBI Spies: Testify or Else

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 5:46 PM EST

A ruling by a Louisiana court could shed further light on the shadowy work of Beckett Brown International (BBI), the now defunct private security and investigations firm that spied on Greenpeace and other targets on behalf of corporate clients.

On Monday, state appeals court judge Kent Savoie ordered two of the firm's former officials, Tim Ward and Jay Bly, to testify or face potential contempt charges in a case related to a massive spill of ethylene dichloride in Lake Charles, Louisiana by chemical manufacturer Condea Vista. Working for Condea in the late 1990s, BBI mounted a wide-ranging operation to gather intelligence on the company's opponents, including local activists and lawyers suing the chemical maker on behalf of clients harmed during the cleanup of the 1994 spill. In addition to tailing activists and obtaining the phone records of Condea opponents, BBI installed a mole inside a Lake Charles environmental group to report inside information about the organization's strategy and campaigns.

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Up until now, Ward and Bly have balked at testifying about their work for Condea, both citing a Maryland statute that protects private investigators from disclosing their clients and operations.

At the hearing, Tom Filo, a Lake Charles attorney targeted by BBI, testified that in 2006 he got a call from John Dodd, a onetime investor in the security firm, who said he had discovered documents from Filo's law firm among BBI's files. These confidential documents included medical information about plaintiffs, correspondence related to fees among attorneys, and unfiled legal documents. Filo has contended that these documents were stolen from his offices.

In February 2007, Peter M. Markey, a former Condea Vista superintendent at Condea's Lake Charles plant, acknowledged that from 1997 to 2000 the company employed "a detective agency to monitor and get information of environmental groups in Lake Charles." At the time, Markey said in a deposition that this was part of a PR effort "to understand environmental groups and what was going on here."

On Monday, lawyers for Condea Vista argued that BBI's work for the company had no bearing on the case at hand—brought by a plaintiff charging he was harmed during the cleanup of Condea's 1994 spill—but Savoie's ruling could pave the way for further disclosures about what BBI called its "Lake Charles Project."

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