A federal judge has decided to grant separate trials to former state Department of Marine Resources managers Tina Shumate and Joe Ziegler, the two remaining defendants in the public corruption case.
Shumate, former DMR coastal resource management and planning director, filed the motion to sever her trial from Ziegler's. Her attorney, Tim Holleman, argued the defendants are charged in two separate alleged schemes to defraud the government. He said a combined trial would be "prejudicial" and violate his client's constitutional right to a fair trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett said the motion was "well-taken" and should be granted. Ziegler has asked that his case be postponed "due to personal reasons unrelated to the case." Starrett has not yet ruled on that motion, filed Wednesday.
The U.S. Attorney's Office did not oppose the motion from Shumate or Ziegler, court filings show.
Two other defendants, former DMR Executive Director Bill Walker and his son, private consultant and former Ocean Springs mayoral candidate Scott Walker, have pleaded guilty to one conspiracy charge in the five-count indictment handed down against the four.
The Walkers were the only defendants included in all five charges. The other four charges against them were dropped in exchange for their pleas.
Shumate is charged with conspiracy to defraud the government and fraud. Both Bill and Scott Walker admitted they conspired with her to spend $210,000 in federal money on Scott Walker's waterfront lot in Jackson County, although the money was intended for other purposes.
Shumate allegedly approached the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain about buying the property. The Land Trust bought it in 2011 with the federal money Bill Walker provided from the DMR.
The Walkers and Ziegler were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of mail fraud, allegedly committed from November 2006 to July.
The government alleges the Walkers and Ziegler, former DMR chief of staff, conspired to funnel money intended for the DMR into a private foundation Bill Walker controlled.