HATTIESBURG — The former Mississippi Department of Marine Resources director yesterday was sentenced to the maximum of five years in prison and fined for helping steer $210,000 in federal money to buy out a waterfront lot owned by his son.
U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett also ordered 69-year-old Bill Walker to serve three years of supervised release. Walker must also pay a $125,000 fine and $572,689 in restitution for misusing more funds.
Earlier yesterday, Starrett also sentenced former D’Iberville City Manager Michael Janus to 21 months in prison for fraudulently obtaining an $180,000 finders’ fee for a company he co-owns with businessman Scott Walker, Bill Walker’s son. Janus was also sentenced to three years’ supervised release and ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution to the city of D’Iberville.
The fee was paid by the city for helping D’Iberville acquire a $3 million Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality grant. The crime was prosecuted as part of the investigation into Marine Resources spending.
Walker and Janus were allowed to remain free on bond. Each will report to prison within 60 days.
Though Starrett couldn’t give Walker any more prison time or a higher fine under Walker’s March guilty plea to one count of conspiracy, he said he’d like to at least see Walker pay more money. Walker could have faced more than seven years in prison but the term was capped in his plea agreement.
“There were some severe errors of judgment that tarnished your career,” Starrett told Walker.
Starrett ruled Walker caused the state to lose $1.45 million. That includes the $210,000 paid for Scott Walker’s lot in unincorporated Jackson County; $444,000 wrongly funneled to a private marine resources foundation Walker controlled; and hundreds of thousands spent on two boats that prosecutors say the department mainly maintained for Walker’s personal use.
The judge rejected leniency pleas in letters from Walker supporters, as well as lawyer William Kirksey’s argument that home confinement would be more appropriate considering Walker’s age and lack of previous convictions.
Walker declined to speak to the judge during sentencing or to reporters after. He embraced his son multiple times after the hearing.
Scott Walker’s sentencing is set for July 23. Two other former marine resources employees, Joe Zeigler and Tina Shumate, face respective Aug. 11 and Sept. 22 trial dates on charges that they aided illegal diversions of government money.
Kirksey argued for more than an hour trying to drag down the loss blamed on Walker and the resulting prison sentence, saying Starrett should adopt the $572,689 in restitution Walker has agreed to pay to the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state. Though Starrett cut the amount from $1.88 million claimed by prosecutors, it wasn’t enough to reduce Walker’s prison sentence.
Janus, 47, pleaded guilty in February to one count of defrauding D’Iberville of $180,000 in grant money by steering a 6 percent commission on a $3 million grant to a company he and Scott Walker controlled.
Starrett told Janus prison time was needed as a deterrent.
“People considering such actions need to know there is a price to pay,” he said.
At the request of the Sun Herald newspaper, Starrett agreed to release letters seeking leniency for Walker and Janus.