Indicted EPA agent appears in court

by Heather Miller

Ex-EPA Agent Keith Phillips is accused of lying under oath to conceal an extra-marital affair that led to the wrongful prosecution of Hubert Vidrine.

The EPA agent fired and indicted recently on perjury and obstruction of justice charges can keep most of his guns and enjoy a hunting trip with his son in September while awaiting trial.

Agent Keith Phillips, a Dallas EPA agent who joined New Orleans FBI agent Ekko Barnhill in a three-year investigation of then Canal Refinery manager Hubert Vidrine, reportedly lied under oath in a 2008 deposition when he denied having a sexual relationship with his joint investigator Barnhill.

Phillips' deposition in the civil trial filed by Vidrine against the federal government led to his termination and federal indictment, which was handed down at the end of July. The former government agent pleaded not guilty Thursday morning when he appeared in federal court before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna.

Vidrine's lawsuit charges that the extra-marital affair between Phillips and Barnhill prompted the agents to pursue a years long meritless and wrongful prosecution against Vidrine for criminal environmental charges, charges that were eventually dropped. The affair, according to Vidrine's suit, sparked a need for Phillips to have a reason to travel regularly from Dallas to New Orleans.

Judge Hanna ruled Thursday that Phillips will not be detained while awaiting trial and told Phillips he could keep most of his firearms, except for one handgun, though protocol typically bars persons under federal indictment from possessing any firearms.

Speaking to a lawyer inside the courtroom before his arraignment began, Phillips said, "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be going through this. It happened 12 or 13 years ago. The hardest thing about all of it is the unknown."

Vidrine is seeking more than $5 million in lost income, lost earning capacity, legal costs to defend prosecution, damage to he and his wife's reputations, emotional distress, humiliation and loss of consortium.

Vidrine's civil case went to trial before U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty in June. According to the indictment, Phillips' 20 years of employment with the EPA ended on July 26, a month after Vidrine's civil suit was heard. Doherty has not yet ruled on the civil lawsuit.

Read more on Vidrine's civil lawsuit against the federal government here.