It all started back on the 4th with the folks at the Clarion Ledger:
In the three years since Director Trudy Fisher’s resignation, federal investigators have looked into DEQ’s activities under her leadership. The probe looks at contracts granted by DEQ in an attempt to determine whether Fisher personally benefited from them, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation, including several people who have been interviewed by the FBI.
Under Fisher, private contractor and attorney Amy Whitten reaped nearly $2 million in DEQ contracts, either directly with the agency or through subcontracts with law firm Balch & Bingham. Whitten, a well-known state contractor, had worked with a number of agencies and secured four previous DEQ contracts before Fisher took over the agency.
The link above that Slabbed put out on Twitter was still warm when the Sun Herald picked up Wolfe’s story on Wednesday by then it had really captured the attention of many folks including here. Then we got the wet blanket that lie under the salacious headline:
Amy Whitten, a Mississippi attorney who received a subcontract with the state Department of Environmental Quality in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, shared her Ridgeland office address with two companies that also gained contracts related to the spill.
One of the companies, Covington Civil and Environmental Engineering, received tens of millions of dollars in contracts related to the April 2010 BP oil spill. The other company, Adaptive Management Services, received a small contract before eventually subcontracting under Covington.
It sounds juicy and salacious but further down the story:
By all indications, Covington excelled under its first consulting contract.
“We knew that in order to at least compete with those big Jackson firms, we had to produce better than them. And we did,” Hairston said. “We did a great job — enough that in three or four months, Trudy said, ‘OK, I like what I’m seeing. We’re going to do another one.”
DEQ entered the second contract with Covington in September 2012. It eventually totaled half a million dollars after an extension in 2013. The contract detailed work under Gov. Phil Bryant’s GoCoast2020 project created in response to the RESTORE Act, through which Mississippi received civil penalties imposed on BP under the Clean Water Act.
The next month, Covington received a third contract eventually totaling $1.6 million for work related to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.
After undergoing a Request for Qualifications process, DEQ awarded the $9 million program management contract for coastal restoration to Covington in August 2013.
Coast guys getting Restore Act contracts does not surprise me in the least. Engineering is a professional service that is not required to be bid in Mississippi but per the article there was an actual RFQ process and I am told the RFQ’s are even available for public inspection on the internet. I mention this because I had to ask myself is there anything here or is this another “Stacey Pickering style” FBI investigation which looks good in the paper but goes no where beyond the news cycle? Some data points began to line up and this is where the wild romp begins:
Nature Conservancy adds new board members ~ Mississippi Business Journal (via archive.org)
Ten business and community leaders from throughout Mississippi recently joined the board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi. The new board members are:
• Scott J. Walker of Ocean Springs is a partner at the Maxwell and Walker Consulting Group, an engineering firm based in Jackson, and he is the co-owner of the Ocean Springs Gazette. Walker, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, has also worked as the Southern District field representative for Sen. Roger Wicker and as office manager and Southern District field representative for Sen. Trent Lott.
• Amy D. Whitten of Ridgeland is the principal owner of The Whitten Group, a full-service management consulting and training firm, and she practices law from offices in Jackson and Oxford. Whitten previously served as counsel and court administrator to the Mississippi Supreme Court and as a special assistant attorney general for the State of Mississippi. Whitten earned her bachelor’s degree and her law degree from the University of Mississippi.
Seeing our own Scott Walker with one of the subjects of the C-L reporting in Whitten in this context would not be unusual as Walker ran in those circles due to his Dad’s position running the DMR in those days. So the above proves nothing except that Whitten comes after Walker in an alphabetized list. So again aside from titillation value what is driving the news of the FBI Investigation and for further help I dialed up to Jackson to see what our sources there knew and it was then things began to make a bit more sense.
According to Slabbed’s source that is knowledgeable of the operations of the DEQ but who is not authorized to speak on the topic with the media the FBI Investigation into Trudy Fisher is 42 months or so old give or take a couple of months. So what happened exactly 42 months ago? I have this from Slabbed’s archives:
Exactly one thought on the Bill Walker plea ~ Douglas Handshoe
What happened 43 months ago? The DEQ was all over these pages:
Before we further titillate, everyone needs to understand the only person that could move Trudy Fisher at DEQ when it came to the Walkers was Boss Hogg himself. Pretty ironic that it was a DEQ grant that ultimately took down the Walkers and a few others. After the felons started singing there is no telling what they said…..all I can say is the genesis of the Trudy Fisher FBI investigation was in that time period. What else was happening back in early 2014?
Audit questions use of Katrina money in Miss. ~ Holbrook Mohr, AP
A new federal report says Mississippi officials accepted unsupported population growth estimates in developing a plan to use $653 million in federal Hurricane Katrina recovery money for water and wastewater facilities, including some that may not be needed.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General also questioned the appraisal documentation for $2.1 million used to buy land for the projects.
In June 2012, The Associated Press reported on concerns raised by residents and officials regarding the population estimates and the use of eminent domain to acquire private land for projects that may not be needed for years, if ever. AP found that some multimillion-dollar sewage plants in coastal Harrison County were sitting idle or underused, but officials who defended the projects insisted they were designed for long-term growth.
The report said a firm hired in 2006 to help draft the plans hired a subcontractor to help with population estimates. The subcontractor initially estimated growth of 25 percent, but increased it — to 64 percent — less than a month later at the request of the contractor, the report said.
Millions of dollars were wasted building Water and Wastewater facilities on the coast that are extremely under utilized. Who was involved in this?
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality was responsible for developing Mississippi’s Gulf Region Water and Wastewater Plan after the August 2005 storm.
A development authority spokesman referred questions about the inspector-general’s report to the environmental quality department.
The department’s executive director, Trudy Fisher, issued a statement Thursday saying she and other officials in her department “take our responsibility to properly utilize federal funds very seriously, and strongly disagree with the audit findings and recommendations with regard to both the appraisal issue and the population projections.”
In that instance, the DEQ was using Mississippi Engineering Group, which leads to Waggoner Engineering. Waggoner is not involved in the BP Restore Act angle reported by Wolfe except for the fact they have unsuccessfully sought some of the work. Slabbed’s Jackson source described the recent Clarion Ledger reporting as sour grapes from firms that have unsuccessfully sought Restore Act work. It could just be that but the reporting in Jackson lined up with a perfect storm happening next door in Alabama:
Ms. Whitten was associated with Balch and Bingham doing environmental work in Mississippi. “Attorney 1” works for the same firm one state over.
When federal prosecutors announced a plea deal with a former state lawmaker last week, there were two big placeholders in the documents provided to the public: Attorney # 1 and Employee # 1.
While he served in the Alabama House, Rep. Oliver Robinson accepted bribes from these two men, prosecutors said. In exchange, Oliver helped resist an effort to expand a Superfund site in north Birmingham, according to court documents.
While those documents omit the names of the individuals, they contain enough detailed information about Robinson’s activities to identify both of the other parties, as only one attorney and one Drummond employee fit the narrow criteria of state-registered lobbyists involved in the particular activities. Those would be Balch partner Joel Gilbert and Drummond Co. Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs David Roberson.
I see a whole lot of dots that aren’t necessarily related but they sure do line up neatly. To go with those dots we have columns of billowing smoke. We also have an FBI Investigation that is long in the tooth that is now being played out on the pages of the C-L. Based on the chatter either all hell is breaking loose or a confluence of news events have resurrected old rumors. Time to let the commenting community here have a crack at this particular Mississippi mudhole. Fire away below.
As for Scott Walker, it appears he has finally learned an important lesson about honesty: