GULFPORT -- Criminal cases against Bill Walker, former executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, his son, Scott Walker, and three others have been reassigned to U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett.
Starrett usually hears cases in Hattiesburg. U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr., the chief judge for Mississippi's Southern District, was originally assigned to the cases. Guirola is based in Gulfport.
Orders filed in two cases, signed by Guirola, say they have been reassigned to Starrett to evenly distribute the workload and ensure "efficient disposition."
In one case, Bill and Scott Walker are charged with five crimes: one count each of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and two counts each of mail fraud. Joe Ziegler, former DMR chief of staff, faces one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of mail fraud. Tina Shumate, former DMR director of coastal resource
management and planning, is charged with one count each of conspiracy to defraud the federal government and fraud.
The charges against the Walkers and Shumate stem from a land transaction involving property the father and son had an interest in. Shumate persuaded a nonprofit to buy the land with money supplied by DMR, the indictment says.
The charges against the Walkers and Ziegler involve a private foundation Bill Walker founded in 2004, about two years after he became DMR director. The indictment alleges the three funneled money intended for the state to Bill Walker's foundation, then used the money to enrich themselves or others.
In a second case, Scott Walker and Michael Janus, former D'Iberville city manager, each face five charges: conspiracy to defraud the federal government, fraud, bribery and two counts of money laundering.
The charges involve a $180,000 consulting fee Janus, as D'Iberville's city manager, allegedly arranged for Scott Walker.
Attorneys for all the defendants have said they plan to plead not guilty to the charges. Their initial appearances were held Friday in Gulfport before Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker. The defendants are scheduled to enter pleas Wednesday morning before Walker in Gulfport. But court orders indicate Magistrate Judge Michael T. Parker, also based in Hattiesburg, has been reassigned to work on the case with Starrett.
The magistrate judges will handle pre-trial matters, while the judges will preside over the trials.