NEW ORLEANS -- Oil giant BP Thursday agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay a record $4.5 billion in a settlement with the government over the deadly 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Three BP employees were also charged -- two with manslaughter.
The settlement and the indictments came 2 1/2 years after the fiery drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 workers and set off the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The settlement includes nearly $1.3 billion in fines, the largest criminal penalty in the nation's history. As part of the deal, BP will plead guilty to charges involving the 11 deaths and lying to Congress about how much oil was spewing from the blown-out well.
"We believe this resolution is in the best interest of BP and its shareholders," said Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP chairman. "It removes two significant legal risks and allows us to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims."
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the deaths and the oil spill "resulted from BP's culture of privileging profit over prudence."
Separately, BP rig workers Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine were indicted on federal charges of manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, accused of repeatedly disregarding abnormal high-pressure readings that should have been glaring indications of trouble.
In addition, David Rainey, BP's former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, was charged with obstruction of Congress and making false statements. Prosecutors said he withheld information that more oil was gushing from the well than he let on.
Rainey's lawyers said he did "absolutely nothing wrong." Attorneys for the two rig workers accused the Justice Department of making scapegoats out of them. Both are still with BP.
The settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge, includes payments of nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences and about $500 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused BP of misleading investors by lowballing the rate of the spill.
Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference in New Orleans that much of the money will be used to restore the Gulf. He said the criminal investigation is continuing.