Former Marine Resources Director, Other Employees Face ChargesBy Evelina Burnett | Published 10 Nov 2013 10:02pm |
Former Mississippi Department of Marine Resources director Bill Walker, his son and three others will be back in federal court on Wednesday for an arraignment hearing.
MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports that they, along with four other former DMR employees, face a slew of accusations that they betrayed the public trust.
In a report earlier this year, the new head of the state’s Department of Marine Resources said that an in-depth assessment of the agency found an environment susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse.
Now, seven former DMR employees have been indicted on charges that include fraud and embezzlement.
Matt Steffey is a professor of law at Mississippi College.
"These are very serious charges, in various legal forms, of government corruption," he says. "And they all involve the notion that people misused, or participated in a plan with government officials, to misuse public funds for their own gain."
The DMR has close to 150 employees and an annual budget of more than $5 million. It’s also been the recipient of millions of dollars of post-Katrina and post-oil spill grant money.
Bill Walker, his former chief of staff, another former DMR employee and Walker’s son face federal charges relating to several hundred thousand state and federal dollars allegedly spent on property owned by them or for their personal use.
But some former employees were indicted on state charges for relatively small amounts – one faces embezzlement charges for $350-worth of travel voucher claims.
Steffey says it’s likely there’s more to this story.
"If we judge it by the amount of money taken, it may seem insignificant, but it may lead us to more significant things. And in any event, people deserve to have public money used in an appropriate way."
The State Auditor's office has also issued civil demands against most of those indicted, often for many times the amounts listed in the indictment.
Steffey says the charges could also be a way to put pressure on some defendants to testify.
The attorneys for those facing federal charges have indicated their clients will be pleading not guilty at Wednesday’s federal arraignment. Tim Holleman, the attorney for Tina Shumate, a former DMR employee facing both state and federal charges, says they're looking forward to get to the truth again.
A date for the arraignment on the state charges hasn't been set yet, but it's likely to take place in the next 30 to 60 days.
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