OTHER OPINION: Marine Resources scandal deepens on Coast

By The Sun Herald, Biloxi-Gulfport

For months, the headlines have marched across the front pages of the Sun Herald. “Federal auditors question DMR land buys.” “$210,000 from DMR buys Walker’s son’s land.” “Foundation fleet: DMR pours more than $1.4 million into recreational fishing boats.” “Connections: Neighbors, relatives and politicians land DMR jobs.” “DMR charters fishing trips for lawmakers, others.”
We reported on the two-month assessment of the Department of Marine Resources conducted by Horne CPAs & Business Advisors. The assessment was commissioned by DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller, who said of the findings, “Clearly there is an environment and culture at MDMR that is susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse, which must be changed.”
The Horne report described nothing less than a public agency gone rogue.
And now we provide extensive coverage of a federal audit of one of the DMR’s primary sources of grant money, the Coastal Impact Assistance Program.
According to the audit, the DMR has moved well past being “susceptible” and is “rife” with waste of public funds and abuse of public trust.
According to the inspector general’s report, the DMR, along with Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, were awarded 100 CIAP grants totaling $99.8 million from Fiscal Year 2009 through Fiscal Year 2012. But because of poor oversight, grant recipients were able “to operate in an environment rife with conflicts of interest, with no assurance that many of the grants issued in Mississippi were used for intended purposes or benefitted the general public.
“In fact, of the almost $39 million in our sample representing 57 grants, we question approximately $30 million” as being either ineligible or unsupported, or which could have been put to better use.
And the biggest shoe has yet to drop: the findings of the state Auditor’s Office and the FBI.
Miller now has an assessment and an audit that clearly identify problem areas at the DMR and solutions to correct them.
It is not a job we envy. But it is a job that must be done.