Auditor's investigation follows federal review at DMR

calee@sunherald.comDecember 15, 2012 

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALDAn employee of the State Auditor's Office closes the door at the Department of Marine Resources executive offices in the Bolton Building in Biloxi on Oct. 25. At left is DMR director Bill Walker's office where State Auditor employees were examining records.

JOHN FITZHUGH — SUN HERALD Buy Photo

Gov. Phil Bryant has instructed the state Department of Marine Resources to cooperate with an ongoing investigation, Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said Friday afternoon.

Bullock said the governor's office would have no further comment on the investigation. The Investigative Audit Division of the State Auditor's Office has been combing through records at DMR offices in Biloxi. The office has not released any details about the inquiry.

It comes on the heels of a review by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Interior Department. The OIG investigates and audits programs that fall under the Interior Department, according to its website.

A spokesman for the OIG did not return telephone calls Friday from the Sun Herald.

However, Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, confirmed the OIG was reviewing DMR's spending of Coastal Impact Assistance Program money.

Gallegos said OIG personnel visited Cochran's office about six weeks ago, as a courtesy, to inform staff members the review would be conducted in Mississippi and in other states that receive CIAP funding. Gallegos said Mississippi was the first state being reviewed.

Revenue from offshore oil leases funds CIAP, which distributes money to oil-producing states to conserve, protect and restore coastal areas. The state and the Coast counties can use the money for a wide range of purposes and projects.

Former Gov. Haley Barbour designated DMR to administer CIAP. Mississippi received $109.2 million in CIAP funding from fiscal years 2007 through 2010, the latest date funding information is posted on DMR's website. Of that total, about $38 million went to the three coastal counties eligible to receive funding.

Bill Walker, DMR's executive director, said Friday he could not discuss specifics of the auditor's investigation.

"The auditors are doing an investigation about some of the practices at DMR," he said, "and that's about all we can say at this point. It's a broad investigation. I really can't say any more than that."

David Huggins, director of the state auditor's investigative division, said, "An inquiry such as this can be a negative or it can also be an exoneration."

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