Danny Guice, the interim director of the state Department of Marine Resources, has told the Sun Herald he can’t account for millions in state money that has come to the agency in the last decade.
“There were monies that I thought should have been available that turns out aren’t,” he said, “because they’re not there. The money was spent.”
Guice discussed the issue during a series of interviews over the past two weeks on how difficult it is to navigate DMR spending. And he conceded the agency “just hasn’t been managed well.”
Guice took over in January when Director Bill Walker was fired after coming under scrutiny for spending practices; the creation of a foundation that financially benefited from its relationship with the DMR; and the use of federal money to buy land from a relative.
The agency also is the focus of investigations by the State Auditor’s Office and the FBI.
“When I first got here and started looking at the books, just from a cursory glance, I thought we had a little money set aside, but we don’t,” Guice said. “And I’m in the process now of finding out where that money went.”
The money, roughly $4 million, is from multiple projects, but only one funding source — state Tidelands money, he said.
That’s the money the state receives from leasing land — the bulk of it from casino leases — that is subject to tidal ebb and flow.
The DMR has a committee that decides how Tidelands money will be spent and sends a list to the Legislature for final approval as long as it’s for “conservation, reclamation, preservation, acquisition, education” and better access to the water.
But going back through the years, Guice said he is finding cases in which more money was spent on projects than was budgeted and cases in which leftover money was spent on projects that weren’t on the list.
“What I was trying to find out is what they spent it on and I’m not sure they know what it was spent on,” Guice said.
He said some of the project accounts were “overspent by five or six times what was budgeted.”