Former Forrest Co. Jail Cook sentenced to prison

Former Forrest Co. Jail Cook sentenced to prison
A former employee at the Forrest County Detention Center, who pled guilty to conspiracy, has been sentenced to prison. Source: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A former employee at the Forrest County Detention Center, who pled guilty to conspiracy, has been sentenced to prison.

Former Forrest County Jail Cook, Jerry Woodland, 53, was sentenced to one year in prison, with three years supervised release and to pay $443,395.61 restitution, no interest, no fine, and $100 special assessment.

Woodland appeared before District Judge Keith Starrett last Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 for his sentencing after it had been continued multiple times for "the best interest of justice," according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Golden.

Woodland entered a guilty plea in federal court in December 2014, when he appeared before Judge Starrett. Woodland was charged with one felony count of conspiracy in connection to ordering food items through the jail for personal use.

Another jail employee, Allen Haralson, the former kitchen supervisor at the jail, pled guilty to the same charge in November 2014. Both men were set free on bail under pre-trial supervision, however Haralson died at Forrest General Hospital in December 2014.

According to the case filed by the United States Attorney, Haralson and Woodland ordered food and food-related items between 2002 and 2014, along with others "known and unknown to the United States Attorney."

A statement from the U.S. Attorney's office stated that Haralson, Woodland, and "others" also conspired to commit mail fraud in order to carry out their scheme by drafting and submitting Forrest County purchase requisition forms that contained fraudulent entries hiding various stolen food items, which has been revealed through the course of the investigation.

The statement also said Haralson and Woodland "did knowingly and intentionally combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with persons known and unknown to the United States Attorney to commit… theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and/or mail fraud."

Other court documents show that Haralson and others would "conceal the true identity" of what was being ordered through the detention center by "fraudulently listing or causing others to fraudulently list" items for purchase orders. According to the statement, Haralson "would embezzle, steal, obtain by fraud, knowingly convert or intentionally misapply food or food-related items" by transporting them from the detention center to personal residences, including Haralson's, or to "businesses or other entities owned or controlled by or affiliated with Haralson" for personal use.

The food that was allegedly being stolen included "ribs, steak, shrimp, clam strips, and beef brisket."

This case stems from an investigation first reported in June when the FBI and state auditor's office requested copies of jail expenses dating back to the early 2000s. Those items were all paid for and approved by the Forrest County Board of Supervisors.

Woodland will remain free pending the notification of the designated institution of the U.S. Marshals.