HATTIESBURG, MS (WLOX) - The former director of the Department of Marine Resources is now a convicted felon. Dr. Bill Walker admitted his guilt Monday morning in Hattiesburg federal court.
Walker pleaded guilty to one court of conspiracy involving the use of federal money he controlled at the DMR. It was a brief hearing, lasting only 35 minutes. But during those 35 minutes, a clear picture of corruption at the DMR was painted by federal prosecutors, corruption that began and ended with Bill Walker.
A somber and stoic Bill Walker arrived at the court with family by his side, including his son, Scott, who pleaded guilty two weeks ago to the same charge the elder Walker was facing.
"Today is a hard day to watch Dad," Scott Walker said. "After 42 years of service to Mississippi, it's a hard day to watch. It really is."
Harder still was for Bill Walker to admit he's a criminal, using federal money at the DMR for his own personal gain. He did not have much to say after the proceedings.
"I'm sorry. There are a lot of things I'd like to say to you all, but I just can't do it. But thank-you for asking," Bill Walker said as he left the courtroom.
Walker's attorney, William Kirksey, did speak for his client.
"Walker, some time ago, recognized his situation and did what a man would do, and that's come into this courtroom and acknowledge his wrongdoing and is prepared to pay for that," Kirksey said.
Federal prosecutors say a message has been sent.
"We hope that today's guilty plea brings the citizens of South Mississippi one stop closer in having to restore confidence in the Department of Marine Resources," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dowdy said. "Obviously, that's a coast based state agency that affects the fisheries and marine resources. Dr. Walker has plead guilty to the criminal acts of fraud."
Two other defendants remain in the DMR corruption probe, and they face a June 1st trial date. Both Bill and Scott walker will be there if the trial goes forward.
"It is contemplated that by way of their plea, they would cooperate and provide testimony against the remaining defendants," Dowdy said.
Bill Walker will find out his fate on June 5 at 1pm when he is sentenced in the same courtroom before Judge Keith Starrett. He could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. That probably won't happen because of the plea deal, in which four other charges against him will likely be dropped. Federal prosecutors will not rule out jail time though.
Walker will also pay restitution of $572,000.