Audit: DMR misspent millions; family, friends benefited

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A federal audit has found millions in grant money administered by the Department of Marine Resources was misspent by the agency.

The report from the Office of Inspector General reviewed $99.8 million in Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) grants awarded to the State of Mississippi and determined $39 million, which represents 57 percent of the grant projects approved, did not meet the criteria of CIAP legislation.

The report also found what it calls widespread conflicts of interest in the administration of CIAP and land purchases, improper land appraisals, circumvention of procurement regulations, improper charges to grants, improper use of equipment, and various accounting, payroll, and financial issues.

The report cites "undisclosed conflicts of interest between a DMR CIAP official, another DMR senior official, the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area, and their family and friends were at the core of 23 grants totaling roughly $16 million."

Among the projects cited in the report: $483,650 for the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art Welcome Center; $89,735 for the Pass Christian Harbor Expansion -Phases 1 & 2; and $226,039 for the Infinity Project.

The Office of Inspector General made 37 recommendations to help eliminate the deficiencies.

Doug Walker will have reaction to the audit from the DMR's new director later today on WLOX News and

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