Ex-Marine Resources chief of staff pleads guilty to misprision

DMRGULFPORT — A former Mississippi Department of Marine Resources employee has pleaded guilty to misprision, or helping conceal a felony.

Joe Ziegler entered his plea yesterday in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.

Federal prosecutors said Ziegler admitted helping conceal a mail fraud scheme by former MDMR Executive Director Bill Walker to divert money intended for the state of Mississippi into a private bank account.

Ziegler, the agency’s former chief of staff, faces a maximum of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his Nov. 10 sentencing.

Prosecutors said Ziegler failed to report the diversion of money from the rigs to reef program into the private bank account of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Foundation, run by Bill Walker.

Bill Walker is serving a five-year sentence at a federal prison in Louisiana. Walker’s son, Scott, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in schemes at the MDMR and the city of D’Iberville.

The FBI said Bill Walker funneled more than $440,000 intended for the DMR into the foundation. In all, he misspent $1.8 million, investigators said.

Scott Walker also admitted to defrauding the government of $180,000 with former D’Iberville City Manager Michael Janus. That was a finder’s fee for a grant to help build the OceanExpo aquarium in D’Iberville.

The government said Scott Walker did nothing to earn that fee. Janus was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Both Walkers pleaded guilty to conspiring with former MDMR manager Tina Shumate to defraud the government by buying a waterfront lot Scott Walker owned in Ocean Springs

Shumate is scheduled for trial Sept. 22 on charges of conspiracy and fraud.

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