Forrest County Jail invoices detail purchases

Forrest County Jail invoices detail purchases
Forrest County Jail/Photo credit: WDAM

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee spoke publicly for the first time two weeks ago about allegations of food theft and a federal investigation involving the Forrest County Regional Jail.

A Seven on Your Side investigation contradicts some of the topics that he addressed regarding jail purchases.

McGee spoke during a candidate forum at the Lake Terrace Convention Center, where he was campaigning against opponent and former Hattiesburg Police Chief Charlie Sims.

The keynote of McGee's speech was when he addressed stolen food and the purchases made from the Forrest County Jail.

"There is not one piece of paper at the Forrest County Courthouse that reflects that any steak, that any shrimp, that any clam strips, anything of that regard was bought or purchased with Forrest County tax payer money and received at the Forrest County Jail," McGee said.

Since then Seven on Your Side has discovered invoices from Merchants Food Service, one of the primary suppliers of food to the Forrest County Jail.

An invoice from Jan. 14, 2014, shows the purchase of one case, which contains 6 lbs of clam strips, for a total of $16.83. Another purchase on that same invoice is for one case, which contains 5 lbs of seafood gumbo, for $66.47.

One other invoice from January 27, 2014 shows one case of pork ribs, cooked and season, for $76.26.

Another invoice from June 26, 2011 shows the purchase of two cases of catfish fillets, for $158.30.

McGee claims that some of these items actually are served at the Forrest County Jail, but those items do not include ribs or clam strips.

"They are not served at the jail, what happens is from time to time, 4th of July we used to do it for sure, but from time to time Mr. Allen would say can I order a case of ribs to feed to trustees, " said McGee. "That was people at the work center, that went out and worked everyday, and it was something for them because they did something extra instead of sit in jail on the county dole, so he did from time to time order ribs, they were never on the line at the Forrest County Jail when I ate, I have never seen them served at the Forrest County Jail."

McGee said he has been audited every year, and been written up three times for going over budget on the amount of money allotted for inmate food, but he said he can fit it in his budget to serve items like catfish and pulled pork, and pork chops.

During McGee's speech he defended accusations brought forward by the U.S. Attorney's Office stemming from a two-year investigation.

"The conception that two people have been charged with theft of food from the Forrest County Jail is absolutely untrue," McGee said.

Even today McGee said; "I would go to any court in the United States and admit to everything that they say is evidence against me that shows that I stole something." That was in reference to the list of items that allege food was stolen from the Forrest County Jail.

A bill of information from the U.S. attorney alleged that kitchen supervisor Allen Haralson and kitchen employee Jerry Woodland and others between 2002 through 2014, stole, obtained by fraud, knowingly converted or intentionally misapplied food, not served at the jail such as ribs, steak, shrimp, clam strips and brisket to themselves or others.

"Nobody has been charged with stealing food from the Forrest County Regional Jail, two people have been indicted for conspiracy," McGee said.

Those indictments ultimately led to both Haralson and Woodland pleading guilty in 2014 in federal court to conspiracy to commit theft and mail fraud charges in the theft of food. The two ultimately pleaded to one count of conspiracy.

In reference to the invoice that showed the purchase and delivery of clam strips, McGee had an answer.

"If you’ll look on it, there is no P.O. on that order, I don’t know where this came from," said McGee. "It says clam strips breaded Seawatch, 1 case, $16.83, and a 4 pound box, of gumbo seafood for $46.47, I never saw either one of those items in the Forrest County Jail, I'm not saying they weren’t at the Forrest County Jail, I didn’t see them."
McGee did say if those were purchased, or ordered that was wrong, and he referenced the two people, Haralson and Woodland who were indicted in the investigation.
McGee said he has multiple people in place who check orders, and have people that handle that sort of thing for him.
"it would be impossible for me to do every task that the sheriffs office is required to do on a daily basis, that would be absolutely impossible," said McGee.

"There is also a law that says if Billy McGee knows that food is being stolen from the jail and he's not taking part in the theft itself, but he's allowing it to go on that he can be charged," McGee said. "I don't have any knowledge of any food being stolen from the Forrest County Jail."

McGee called out Mississippi Attorney General Candidate Mike Hurst, the former U.S. attorney who was handling a portion of the case.

"If something of that magnitude was going on, we would have been told so, so that things could be put in place so that would not happen," McGee said. "We have not been told one time, how this is happening and what process was being used."

McGee told a local newspaper that he believes the investigation had been closed.

More recently, A.G. Candidate Mike Hurst took time to respond to McGee's comments during a campaign luncheon.

"I find it surprising that Sheriff McGee knows whether a federal investigation is over and done, all I can say is what I investigated, and what I prosecuted," Hurst said. "We convicted two employees of the jail for conspiracy to steal food and fabricate documents, a lot of money that was lost, I can't say whether the investigation is ongoing or completed, but I will say as attorney general I will follow a lead wherever it goes and we will prosecute whoever breaks the law."

During that investigation, aside from the food issue, according to the Bill of Information; Haralson and Woodland and "others" are also accused of mail fraud after drafting and submitting various Forrest County purchase requisition forms, some of which contained fraudulent entries concealing the true identity of food and food-related items purchased by the Forrest County Detention Center, with the intent that such food and food-related items would be embezzled, stolen, converted, fraudulently obtained or intentionally misapplied by the defendants or others.

McGee claims he was told by a group of Hattiesburg businessmen that the investigation was over and had ended when Haralson, the investigations star witness died.

Haralson died at Forrest General Hospital in December 2014, and Woodland is set to be sentenced in federal court in December or later, according to court documents.

Woodland has been part of a series of continuances that have repeatedly pushed his sentencing date back multiple times.

Additional court documents indicate there are "others" known and unknown and some yet to be named as a part of the investigation.

McGee says he does believe there are vendors that are responsible and guilty in the investigation, but they have yet to be named. He continued to say it has been over two years, and the tax payers should be up-at-arms regarding the was of tax dollars and the investigation leading nowhere.

McGee again questioned the investigation, claiming no others have been indicted, and saying nothing has been done about the food vendors.

"What's he waiting on, (U.S. Attorney), if Billy McGee is guilty, indict Billy McGee, if you can prove Billy McGee stole food, indict Billy McGee, its been two and a half years," said McGee.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not respond for a comment regarding the investigation.

For a PDF of all the documents, click here.