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Auditors looking at possible sweetheart deals at DMR

BILOXI — Federal auditors question $12.6 million of $14 million approved by the state Department of Marine Resources to buy and conserve coastal property using money from offshore oil leases.

DMR paid 16 times the county tax appraisals for some land, and 25 times the amount on county tax rolls for one parcel, auditors from the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General wrote in a preliminary report obtained by The Sun Herald.

Auditors also alleged that Mississippi’s Coastal Impact Assistance Program bought land from the director’s parents for 39 percent more than its appraised value.

DMR’s coastal management and planning office, headed by Tina Shumate, runs the program. The report said her parents got $245,000 for land appraised by the county at $176,000.

She did not return calls and DMR head Bill Walker wouldn’t talk about specifics or a state auditor’s investigation begun after the federal findings were received, the newspaper reported. Walker called the preliminary report a standard federal audit.

The report says “it is imperative” that appraisals and federally funded land acquisitions be based on market value and that sales between members of a family are not arm’s-length transaction, because “they may involve other factors than market value considerations.”

Federal auditors checked 14 properties along the Coast that the department and four subgrantees were buying this year with CIAP money, comparing sale appraisals with those on county tax rolls.

The only project that went unquestioned was Pascagoula Pointe.

The biggest percentage difference was for land called Old Fort Bayou. It was listed on the Jackson County tax rolls for $70,700 but appraised for sale at $1.25 million.



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