Subpoenas seek two key accounts in DMR probe

klnelson@sunherald.comJanuary 10, 2013 

BILOXI -- The Sun Herald has learned the investigation by the State Auditor's Office into the spending practices of the Department of Marine Resources has broadened.

State investigators have subpoenaed two key DMR accounts, said Sandy Chesnut, the assistant attorney general assigned to DMR.

One account holds disaster-relief money.

The Sun Herald first reported on it in November, when the newspaper obtained documents that showed the head of the DMR approved public money from this account to buy a vacant lot in Gulf Hills that belonged to his son.

The other is the Rigs to Reefs account. The Sun Herald reported in December the state agency used $1.46 million in public money from Rigs to Reefs to upgrade and maintain two recreational fishing boats owned by the private foundation Bill Walker, the suspended DMR chief, also manages.

Chesnut has denied the newspaper access to the accounts under the state Public Records Act, basing her decision on the fact that they had been subpoenaed and were the subject of a criminal investigation.

The state auditor's investigation came to light in October, when agents took records from Walker's office and other offices at the DMR's Bolton Building in Biloxi.

The agency is also the focus of a federal audit by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees some of the federal funding the DMR manages.

Citing these two investigations, the Commission on Marine Resources, which governs the DMR, suspended Walker until the probes are concluded.

The disaster-relief account holds Katrina money.

Walker approved $110,000 from the fund to be used for the purchase of property from his son, Scott Walker. Bill Walker has said money from the account is "spent for a variety of purposes."

The DMR has more than 4,000 pages of information and supporting documents associated with the disaster-relief account, Chesnut said.

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