Bill Walker, former director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, is back in prison for what U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett described Wednesday as ”willful and obstinate failure” to pay restitution for defrauding the government.
Since he was released from prison in November 2017, Walker has paid only around $10,000 of the $572,689 in restitution he owes in a highly publicized public-corruption case. Federal or state investigations also netted his son and six other former DMR employees.
“This is real money,” Starrett told Walker. “This is real money the taxpayers are out and the court feels strongly it should be repaid.”
Starrett also found Walker willfully refused government demands to document monthly expenses of $16,563. Walker says he doesn’t have enough money left to pay the government $5,000 a month in restitution.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
Walker’s monthly income is around $16,623, which includes both his and wife Sharon Walker’s retirement and Social Security checks.
Federal authorities have implored him to cut his monthly expenses so he can make restitution payments. Testimony indicated he made little effort to do so until he faced court action.
Walker, who took the stand, said he relied on son Scott Walker to help with his finances and payments. Starrett told the elder Walker that he is responsible. “Your son’s not going to do the jail time,” Starrett said.
Federal marshals shackled Walker and led him off to jail after he spoke briefly to his family at the hearing’s conclusion.
Walker, 72, will return to federal court in Gulfport for sentencing at 2:30 p.m. Oct 1. Scott Walker said his father faces three to nine months behind bars.
Bill Walker tried to get his monthly restitution payments reduced at a hearing before Starrett in February, but Starrett said then that the retiree needed to reduce his expenses and make the payments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wesley Webb of the office’s Financial Litigation Unit in Jackson said it’s been impossible to get a true picture of Bill Walker’s finances without the requested backup documentation.
Scott Walker said his parents’ health problems have prevented them from gathering all the records, which took five days.
Some of the monthly expenses Bill Walker claims, according to the government:
▪ $3,322 for a mortgage
▪ $1,938 in car notes for a Mercedes Benz, a Yukon and a Land Rover that Scott Walker drives
▪ $400 a month for a housekeeper
▪ $1,513 for life insurance, including a policy that lists his son as a beneficiary.
Scott Walker also testified. He said the Mercedes his mother drove is back at the dealership and up for sale. He also said his three sons are beneficiaries on the same life insurance policy, which was important to their grandmother.
Scott Walker told the Sun Herald after the hearing that he is paying for the Land Rover.
Scott Walker, who also was convicted in the conspiracy case with his father and in a separate fraud case with former D’Iberville City Manager Michael Janus, said he has made substantial restitution payments in both those cases.
Senior Probation Officer Justin Crowe said he warned the Walkers time and again that they needed to curb their expenses and lifestyles.
“To be honest with you,” Crowe said, “there wasn’t much receptiveness. They would hear what I said but didn’t seem to understand.”
Crowe even warned the Walkers that “the court of public opinion” would not look favorably on their season tickets to Biloxi Shuckers games, which cost almost $6,000. The family had seats behind home plate.
In hindsight, Scott Walker said, he should not have bought the tickets. He wanted his father to enjoy a sport he loved with his grandsons.
Scott Walker believes his father can cut expenses enough to make $5,000 monthly payments by December, he said. For September, his father paid $1,800, the son said.
Bill Walker is scheduled to begin payment on a $125,000 fine once restitution is paid.
When he testified, Bill Walker told the judge, “I am totally committed to making this right.”
While he headed DMR, Bill Walker misspent federal money on property his son owned and through a nonprofit corporation he set up. After 11 years as DMR director, he was fired at the end of 2013, amid the federal and state investigations that would lead to his five-year prison sentence.