I’ve learned there has been a resignation from the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain as a result of the investigation into wrongdoing uncovered in the Department of Interior OIG investigation into spending from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) program.
To date the Sun Herald has reported on two separate OIG reports on the subject as well as the fact then DMR director Bill Walker used the Land Trust as a financial intermediary to use CIAP funds to buy his son’s property. More recent reporting in the Sun Herald indicate major discrepancies in what Land Trust executive director Judy Steckler initially told the paper as reasons for the purchase versus what the transaction documents actually indicate. It looks and smells bad and there is no way around it.
Old Jefferson Parish salts immediately told me after reading the initial coverage of the DMR scandal that these boards were misled. At the end of this that sage prophesy will be born out. Slabbed is looking at what the oversight boards are doing today in response to what everyone is learning. Editorially we’ll continue to call out those that condone the corruption by doing nothing to correct what got us here.
Folks, we now have a free for all at DMR as Billy Walker and his co conspirators to the looting of the agency for their personal benefit are finally being thrown under the bus by Interim DMR Director Danny Guice and the embattled Commission on Marine Resources. I mention this because months after Tina Shumate’s double dealing was exposed by the Sun Herald, both her and her political hack sister have finally been let go from DMR. It is not nearly enough.
By all accounts Guice, a career politician, wants the top job at DMR badly thus his conversion into some sort of good government activist. The Commission on Marine Resources OTOH, have been revealed as simpletons along the lines of the D’Iberville City Council, heaping praise on Walker despite the allegations right up to the bitter end. Clueless does not describe them, which is why they all need to go as these misdeeds happened on their watch when they were supposed to be providing oversight. They breached their fiduciary duty to the DMR and that is about the worst thing a board member can do. It is my hope that any money not recovered from Bill Walker and his band of theives is recovered from the Board members who oversaw the looting of the agency by Walker and his cronies.
Yesterday Karen Nelson added some color to the unfolding federal investigation into the DMR friends and family program disclosing a few things, one of which we knew in a general sense and one that we did not know. First off is the factoid we did not know:
The Director of the Land Trust for the Coastal Plain, Judy Steckler, appears to have a problem telling the truth about the Land Trust’s involvement as a financial intermediary in the DMR purchase of Former DMR Executive Director Bill Walker’s son Scott’s piece of land on Bayou Porteaux. Once known as a nonprofit with a sterling reputation the Land Trust has taking a major and well deserved beating for their role in what strongly appears to be a sophisticated, criminal enterprise. After yesterday’s story I do not see how the Land Trust can keep Ms. Steckler as its executive director but as we saw with the CMR it is possible the Board of Trustees of the Land Trust remains firmly in denial, in the process breaching their fiduciary duty to the organization.
Finally Nelson tells us in detail the FBI’s role in the investigation and one of the leads they are chasing using the same investigative technique the FBI used in the neighborhood canvas. It appears Bill Walker’s son Scott may need fabled beltway criminal defense attorney Bernie Grimm’s services again as the FBI has taken an interest in the DMR’s purchase of Walker’s lot. It is not much of a stretch to extrapolate that CIAP director Tina Shumate and her purchase of her parent’s property is also under the same scrutiny. How Shumate remains at DMR drawing a paycheck defies the imagination.
Next up Michael Newsom takes a stab at the DMR purchase of the old Winn Dixie property in the Pass. A couple of things stuck out at me the first being that the story photo appears to be the property across the street from the parcel purchased by DMR. Following is an aerial photo of the location with the slab and parking lot of the old Winn Dixie still visible.
We’ve been here and done this property on Slabbed way back on November 5 of last year. The Sun Herald protected the identity of the beneficiary of this DMR friends and family program purchase, Jackson based developer Gary Cress in their story. I well remember when the Pass Winn Dixie closed a month or so before Katrina. Cress was planning to develop the parcel into condos. The parcel across Henderson Avenue sold the summer before Hurricane Katrina for $800,000 with an eye toward the same purpose.
The $800,000 parcel on the right, over 3 acres of land, is lower in elevation than the Cress parcel and had never been developed since Hurricane Camille for that reason. It would seem to fit the DMR criteria for land purchases better than the old Winn Dixie site. It should also be lost on no one that land values on the Mississippi Coast reached their zenith that summer before Katrina as condomania swept the land. Today the parcel on the right is for sale by owner and I’m guessing the reason it has not sold, despite being on the market close to 7 years, is due to overvaluation associated with the original purchase in the summer of 2005. Continue reading “DMR Scandal Day 88: Screwing the pooch starring Billy Walker, the FBI and the Chipper”
Folks we all gotta take off our hats to the DMR Beat Team at the Sun Herald because the gang is doing a great job, especially in today’s day and age of the local newsroom cut to the bone by absentee investor owned chains like the Sun Herald’s McClatchy that struggle under massive corporate debtloads. Bad times in the newspaper industry are no secret but the Sun Herald’s reporting on the unfolding scandal at DMR should remind us all of the societal value of high quality investigative journalism.
I mention this because often times one has to often read between the lines in a straight news story to fully understand the situation the reporter(s) is (are) trying to convey. Today it does not take much reading to figure out the Sun Herald would love to fully flesh out this entire DMR topic but they feel stymied. Here’s a long winded explanation why.
Today’s top story on DMR by Anita Lee and Karen Nelson on Bill Walker’s Foundation is mostly a recap of previous reporting dating back to December 8, 2012. That said it had a few new quotes from CMR Chairman Vernon Asper and yes, he comes across as clueless Billy Walker tool, which he surely was considering he chaired the Commission on Marine Resources yet evidently knew next to nothing about what was going on at the agency. This in turn is a massive breach of Asper’s fiduciary duty as Chairman of the CMR but we need to circle that for now. It also had quotes from emails involving Bill Walker’s son Scott arranging one of those taxpayer funded fishin’ trips with representatives of an engineering firm out of Mobile, Thompson Engineering. It was nice to see the taxpayers bought beer and that Pascagoula Mayor and fellow crony capitalist Robbie Maxwell has entered into the equation. Maxwell, Pascagoula’s part time Mayor is as bad as Bill Walker folks, maybe even worse IMHO.
As bad as this is, and believe me what Phil Bryant’s coastal political cronies have done is very bad, none of this is new and Gov Phil, better than anyone should know exactly what I’m talking about as he was state auditor when it all came down: ENRON.
It was massive accounting frauds at ENRON and WorldCom that led to government regulation of large swaths of the CPA profession and deservedly so I’ll add. For instance at ENRON there was an ossified, ineffectual Board of Directors stacked with politically connected phonies like Senator Phil Gramm’s wife Wendy, an economist that could rationalize about anything. At DMR, by their own admission we have a Board of Trustees that had no clue what was going on and who evidently did not bother to engage their jobs beyond the free boat rides, fishing trips etc. When the people that are supposed to be running the show are asleep at the switch bad things happen as we found out at ENRON and now DMR.
ENRON used off balance sheet special purpose entities or (SPE in accounting lingo) as a major vehicle for much of the criminal activity that occurred DMR director Bill Walker created an off books foundation that sucked all manner of tax dollars away from DMR’ mission to support the boats Walker used to wine and dine everyone on the taxpayer dime and lord knows what else. Continue reading “DMR Scandal Day 80: This is too rich…….:-)”
Hope everyone had a wonderful and blessed Christmas and will enjoy all the best in the New Year. And speaking of the New Year, it is going to be a busy one politically in Hancock County. Two of our cities, Bay St. Louis and Diamondhead will be holding municipal elections. The Hancock County Alliance for Good Govenment plans to be involved in both sponsoring forums, etc.
It is going to be interesting to see how the fiscal situation in our nation and state affects us locally from municipal governments to school districts.
Both of our school districts are implementing the new Common Core Curriculum, which is being done nation wide. Everyone has to follow the same rules, so we would encourage our educators to dig in their heels, and give it their best shot for the kids.
Our state leaders seem to be dedicated to supporting Charter Schools. We’ll never know how they would work in our state until we try them. One advantage is that if the Charter School does not produce, it gets shut down. Pity we can’t operate under that format with some of our public schools in our state.
We are still of the opinion that consolidation of school districts would also be beneficial primarily for the students. It has been suggested to our legislature since a study was done in 1993 to consolidate districts and take the money saved in eliminating duplication of administrative costs and put it in the classrooms. It just seems to fall on deaf ears, and our state leaders contilnue to wonder why we lag behind nationally in education year after year. Continue reading “Guest Post :The Hancock County Alliance for Good Government January 2013 Newsletter”
According to sources familiar with the tragedy that would be the suicide of Michaela Hill, Bill Walker’s secretary on August 18, 2012, weeks before the OIG issued their DMR friends and family preliminary report. Those same sources indicate to Slabbed certain elements of Hill’s family harbor strong feelings toward her former boss, the reasons for which have since bubbled up on these pages along with the Topix Forums and the Sun Herald.
I have a series of posts coming on the family and friends programs at both the DMR and the Bay-Waveland School District so today I begin with that preliminary US Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General report on the problems at DMR. The twist is that I’m going to use that report to highlight the inherently flawed purchase of the Bay Tech Building by the Bay-Waveland School Board. In this series of posts I’m completely in my field of expertise as an auditor and hopefully I’ll set off a few light bulbs. First let’s do a quick review on the OIG report on the DMR family and friends program aka CIAP.
The DMR scandal broke on October 25 with reporting by the Sun Herald the Investigative Division of the Office of the State Auditor were at the Bolton Building in Biloxi going through Director Bill Walker’s office. The story that came from officialdom was that investigators were following up on a somewhat routine US DOI OIG audit of the Coastal Impact Assistance Program that found major problems in how DMR was running the program. The OIG audit, an unusual occurrence absent a major wasting of tax dollars or suspected criminal activity, was described in different terms by the folks at State Auditor’s office that claimed it was because the federal agency administering the program was changing. I do not believe that for a second personally as I firmly believe a dime was dropped. (I’ll explain more on that next week)
In any event the folks at the various OIG offices are auditors and since I’m an auditor by trade with a bit of practical experience let’s recreate some of the events through the eyes of an auditor.
Like the systemic political corruption in Jefferson Parish, the unfolding scandal at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is like a cheap sweater in that one loose thread has been pulled and now the whole thing is unraveling. As Karen Nelson at the Sun Herald has reported on each new out house transaction, I sense a growing public outrage, especially now that a not for profit organization with a previously sterling reputation has emerged as a co-conspirator to what strongly appears to be illegal acts involving DMR Director Bill Walker and his son Scott. Tina Shumate, the person at DMR in charge of the Coastal Impact Assistance Program is also neck deep in the cesspool doing real estate deals with her parents with public money and it is with Tina’s parents brother that we’ll start as she is no ordinary legacy political hack stinking up state government as her daddy brother Curt Hebert is an expert in wallowing in the crony capitalism cesspool dating to his disastrous run as head of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Agency, which in reality regulated nothing expect the lining of their own pockets:
Hebert, a former Mississippi utility regulator who is often regarded as a protégé of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), was named chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by President George W. Bush in January 2001. A Republican, Hebert was first nominated to FERC in 1997 by former President Bill Clinton. During Hebert’s tenure, FERC has been criticized for being too laissez faire, and Hebert’s critics accuse him of being a free market ideologue.
Indeed it was under Hebert’s watch that ENRON price gouged west coast power consumers by manipulating power supplies, causing rolling blackouts and other disruptions that allowed ENRON to profit mightily from selling electricity into the contrived power shortage. Hebert is an expert in Mississippi style crony capitalism and it appears his daughter sister well learned at his side how to slop at the trough.
What I am gonna do today is link the Sun Herald reporting for those that want to catch up and call bull on DMR Director Bill Walker’s assertion the OIG showing up at his office late last Summer is somehow routine. A state agency seeing someone from the State Auditors Office is routine though it appears the Auditor’s office, as it concerns DMR corruption, has been asleep at the switch for many years and in my opinion their Johnny-come-lately appearance on the DMR scene is to ascertain the extent of the scandal so it can be contained as I have no faith Governor Phil Bryant wants to see this scandal exposed since it involves so many of his supporters.
Suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief is a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.
So the DMR is actually considering swapping Harbor Landing, which taxpayers bought from the taxpayer real estate king David Harris for over $3.6 million plus 18 months of free use for a piece of larger parcel of undeveloped land on the Biloxi waterfront the owers could not sell in total for $2.5 million. This folks, sounds like DMR Director Dr Bill Walker math to me, but then again maybe that is why the Office of the State Auditor had investigators crawling all over Walker’s office around a week ago. I hear the OSA has taken an interest in taxpayer funded real estate transactions across the coast in fact. From my vantage point this area is indeed rich in scams and rife with fraud.
I was there on business just a few weeks ago and actually know a few of the inhabitants. I mention this because the Sun Herald has a connection or two there as well as Donna Harris and photojournalist John Fitzhugh showed up yesterday at Bolton while a few folks from the investigative division of the State Auditor’s office were holed up in DMR executive director Bill Walker’s office going through his files and computer hard disks.
Let’s be clear, the Investigators with the OSA are not the FBI and the OSA typically pursues civil rather than criminal remedies. That said I do not think they’ll have to look very hard to figure out what DMR is about in its new role as Santa to the politically connected. To the extent Walker is highly connected in statewide GOP circles, the fact this investigation was green lit by the powers that be is telling. Stay tuned.