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Ex-DMR director, four others plead not guilty to corruption

BILOXI — The former director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, his son and three others pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal corruption charges related to the use of public money.

Former MDMR director Bill Walker and his son, Scott Walker, and two former MDMR officials, Joseph Zeigler Jr. and Sheila “Tina” Shumate, face charges related to the agency’s spending.

Scott Walker and Michael Janus, the former city manager for D’Iberville, are charged in a separate case with fraudulently using $180,000 in that city’s money.

They all pleaded not guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court in Gulfport. Their lawyers didn’t immediately respond to phone messages.

The indictment in the MDMR case said the Walkers and Shumate, the former director of the agency’s coastal impact assistance program, conspired to use MDMR’s money to buy land in which the Walkers had a financial interest and also embezzled $210,000.

The Walkers and Zeigler, former MDMR chief of staff, are charged with diverting MDMR money into the private bank account of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Foundation, a private foundation created by Bill Walker in 2004 that purported to support the agency. The indictment says they used the money to “gain personal enrichment.”

MDMR was created in 1994 to oversee programs related to Mississippi’s interests in and along the Gulf of Mexico, including seafood safety, coastal wetlands and tidelands protection and boating. It is among the smaller agencies in Mississippi government. Its current budget is just about $10.8 million.

The charges were the culmination of a lengthy investigation that had already resulted in a shake-up in the leadership of the agency. Bill Walker was fired from MDMR in January, after leading the agency since 2002,

Shumate and four others are charged in state court with embezzlement, mostly related to what prosecutors said were fraudulent travel vouchers submitted to MDMR.

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