NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A federal judge will decide next month whether to accept a plea deal that calls for BP PLC to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties for its role in a deadly 2010 rig explosion and the massive oil spill it triggered in the Gulf of Mexico.
To resolve a Justice Department probe, the London-based oil giant agreed last month to plead guilty to criminal charges involving the deaths of 11 workers and to lying to Congress about how much oil spilled from its blown-out well.
After a closed-door meeting Tuesday with attorneys, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance scheduled a Jan. 29 hearing where she will either accept or reject BP's plea agreement with the government.
BP can withdraw its agreement if she rejects the deal. If she accepts it, Vance must impose a sentence that adheres to the agreed-upon terms.
The penalties that BP agreed to pay include the biggest criminal fine in U.S. history.
The proposed settlement doesn't resolve separate criminal charges against four current or former BP employees.
Vance ordered federal probation officials to conduct a presentence investigation and submit a report to her by Jan. 14. She also ordered BP and the Justice Department to submit a joint memo by Jan. 16 that explains why the plea deal "adequately reflects the seriousness of the offenses and accepting the agreement satisfies the statutory purposes of sentencing."
The settlement 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 amount of crude that was spilling from its blown-out well.
It also includes nearly $1.3 billion in fines. The largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Justice Department was a $1.2 billion fine against drug maker Pfizer in 2009.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.