- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Former Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Executive Director Bill Walker pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to a charge of conspiring to defraud the federal government.

The Sun Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1kHELPO ) Walker admitted he conspired with his son, Scott, and a former Department of Marine Resources manager to spend $210,000 in federal money granted through DMR on property Scott Walker owned.

Prosecutors say Bill Walker and his wife co-signed their son’s loan and were also were liable for the debt.

Scott Walker previously pleaded guilty to the charge and is scheduled for sentencing on June 5.

Members of the Walker family attended Monday’s plea hearing in Hattiesburg.

Prosecutors charge DMR manager Tina Shumate approached the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain about buying Scott Walker’s waterfront property in Jackson County with money DMR would supply. The Land Trust and Scott Walker signed a contract for the property’s purchase in April 2011.

Walker has agreed to repay a total of $572,689 for misappropriation of DMR funds, including the $210,000 spent on the land transaction.

The U.S. attorney’s office said Bill Walker supplied DMR funds for the property purchase. The money included $100,000 the National Park Service granted with the stipulation that it not be used for land acquisition and $110,000 in federal Hurricane Katrina relief money meant to reimburse salaries, prosecutors said.

After the Land Trust bought the property, Scott and Bill Walker used a portion of the proceeds to pay off a loan they held, the government alleged. Bill Walker took out a new loan to pay the remaining balance.

Bill Walker headed the state agency responsible for conserving coastal resources from 2002 until the Commission on Marine Resources fired him in January 2013 after federal and state investigations of agency spending were underway.

In exchange for Bill Walker’s guilty plea, the U.S. attorney’s office agreed to drop four other charges against him: fraud, stemming from the land transaction; and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of mail fraud, allegedly committed from November 2006 to July 2013 with his son and former DMR Chief of Staff Joe Ziegler.

The government alleges the Walkers and Ziegler conspired to funnel money intended for DMR into a private foundation Bill Walker controlled.

Ziegler and Shumate maintain their innocence in the case set for trial June 2.

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com