A high-profile Mississippi Department of Marine Resources employee, Tina Shumate, and her sister, Samantha Hebert, resigned and left their jobs at the agency Thursday, their attorney said.
Shumate served as coastal management and planning director under former Executive Director Bill Walker, whose spending practices as agency head are being investigated by the State Auditor’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Walker hired Hebert in October 2010 as one of the MDMR’s contract employees, jobs he did not advertise. She collected video footage and edited documentaries, according to a job description posted on the state’s transparency website.
Gulfport attorney Tim Holleman, who confirmed their departure, is representing both women as the investigations continue.
“Rightfully or wrongfully, the DMR is circling the wagons,” Holleman said. “I maintain with full confidence that neither Tina Shumate nor Samantha Hebert have done anything wrong.
“I can’t comment more than that,” he said. “It’s just too early in the investigation.”
In November, a federal audit questioned the MDMR’s purchase of property owned by the women’s parents. It specifically pointed to a potential conflict of interest for Shumate because she headed the Coastal Impact Assistance Program through which the property was purchased. The audit also said the transaction was based on an appraisal unsupported by verifiable data and thorough research.
Investigators from the auditor’s office confirmed last week they had served a search warrant at Shumate’s home. After the search, Holleman said documents will show Shumate avoided any involvement in the land transaction on her parents’ property.