BILOXI, Miss. — George Malvaney says he shed his Ku Klux Klan membership and his abortive career as a mercenary by the time he walked out of federal prison, never looking back, two days before his 23rd birthday in July 1982.
Today, Malvaney is a key player in the protection and cleanup of Mississippi's shoreline as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's Deepwater Horizon well. He works daily with Gulf Coast mayors and supervisors, and recently took Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., on a tour of a BP staging area in Gulfport.
Malvaney oversees a diverse workforce as the chief operating officer of BP subcontractor U.S. Environmental Services. He previously worked for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
"It's something that happened 30 years ago," Malvaney told the Biloxi Sun Herald. "I have an unblemished record. My work speaks for itself. My reputation speaks for itself."
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Malvaney grew up in Jackson, Miss., in an era when white adults liberally laced their conversations with derogatory terms for blacks, black help ate on the back porch and downtown restaurants refused service to "coloreds." He doesn't like to talk about or remember his days in the Klan. He said the white supremacist group recruited him in Virginia after he joined the Navy at age 18.
He and the Navy parted ways over his KKK activities. While he was serving in Norfolk, he organized a Klan rally in Virginia Beach, according to a book that recounts his short-lived career as a mercenary. The Navy transferred him to Brunswick, Maine, before he was granted an honorable discharge in 1979. Back in Jackson, he remained active in the Klan for several months.
"In retrospect," Malvaney said, "You sit back and it doesn't make any sense. I'm not trying to get in a position of defending it, because I'm not. It just doesn't make any sense to me now. I'm a different person and have been for 30 years."
Klan contacts recruited Malvaney, who was working in construction, to help overthrow the government of Prime Minister Eugenia Charles on the Caribbean island of Dominica in 1981. He was promised $3,000 in pay, according to a book about the failed coup, "Bayou of Pigs."
The plot's ringleaders had planned to transform the impoverished island through drugs, gambling and offshore banking, but their plot was exposed and the would-be mercenaries were arrested in New Orleans as they prepared to set sail with, among other things, rifles, handguns, dynamite and a Nazi flag.
Malvaney pleaded guilty to a violation of the federal Neutrality Act and received an indeterminate sentence under youth provisions of federal law. He said he was shuttled around the federal prison system but served most of his 1 1/2 years in Englewood, Colo.
"You realize quickly it's not the place you want to be," Malvaney said. "Prison was a life-changing event." Malvaney didn't think so much about how he got there as he did about how he would live differently when he left.
"You just decide that's not where you want to be," he said. "I learned from my mistakes and never looked back." He got his construction job back when he got of prison in 1982. By that fall, he was enrolled at Hinds Community College, and from there, he went to the University of Southern Mississippi.
An avid fisherman and hunter as a youngster, Malvaney pursued environmental studies, worked summer internships for the state Department of Marine Resources and earned his bachelor's degree. He went to work for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, first as a technician and then in emergency services, responding to chemical and oil spills.
In April 1987, six years after his arrest, his felony conviction was erased.
He's worked since 2001 at U.S. Environmental Services, where he manages a diverse workforce of 200. He's working daily to protect Mississippi's shoreline, for professional and personal reasons. Malvaney has always enjoyed fishing offshore for trout and redfish, and in blue water for grouper, snapper and amberjack. He wears a fisherman's shirt to work and spends most of his time in his second office, a Ford F-150 pickup truck.
"I like him," said Pass Christian, Miss., Mayor Chip McDermott. "He's personable; he's available. If we have a problem, that's who we call. You go to the top and you get things done. He is the man."
(Lee reports for the Biloxi Sun Herald.)
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