BILOXI — About $80,000 in charter boat trips are now part of a criminal investigation of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, an official has told The Sun Herald.
Invoices and letters provided by the DMR indicate the trips were to sample fish for research about artificial reefs, even though the department owns a $389,000 boat custom-made for the Rigs to Reefs program and leases two other boats.
Deputy fisheries director Joe Jewell, who oversees the sampling, said he didn’t order or know about the trips. Asked why his signature is on orders authorizing payments for them, he called it an oversight.
He also told the newspaper he could not answer some questions because the matter is being investigated by the state and FBI.
Most of the charters were with Silver Dollar Inc., owned by Jay Trochesset of Biloxi.
From 2008 to 2012, the DMR paid $80,415 for trips aboard Silver Dollar vessels.
Before he was fired, former department head Bill Walker told the newspaper the charter trips often included lawmakers and others who could help the agency. The aim was to help them better understand the importance of artificial reefs, he said.
Walker also had said some of the trips were to collect samples after the BP oil disaster to show seafood from the Mississippi waters and the Gulf of Mexico was safe to eat.
However, records obtained from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality show samples were turned in on only three of eight days charters were taken — from blue crab caught in the Pearl river on Aug. 11 and Sept. 7, 2011, and on Aug. 17, 2012, from oysters harvested off Pass Christian.