Hattiesburg restaurateur charged with stealing food from Camp Shelby program

CAMP SHELBY, MS (WDAM) - A civilian employee working at Camp Shelby was arrested by agents of the State Auditor's Office on Saturday after a state investigation discovered he allegedly stole more than $100,000 worth of food from a National Guard youth program.

Jerry L. Howard, 50, was charged on Saturday with grand larceny after investigators with the State Auditor's office discovered at his Hattiesburg residence and restaurant, Jerry's Seasoned Food, food belonging to The Youth Challenge Academy at Camp Shelby where Howard was the dining facility manager, officials said on Thursday.

Howard has worked for the program for 17 years, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Augustus L. Collins said in a prepared statement, "We are not sure when it started, but once we were certain that food ordered for the Challenge Program was not being served, we contacted the State Auditors Office. Their investigators worked with military auditors, which resulted in the arrest of the dining facility manager."

Collins said on Thursday that "at no time were any kids in danger. At no time were meals compromised. Everyone was fed on time and properly."

State Auditor Stacey Pickering said on Thursday that large quantities of invoiced food never appeared on the menu, and that end-of year-totals increased from $216,000 in 2009 to $306,000 in previous fiscal year, while the number of people eating remained the same.

Pickering said in a prepared statement, "While we are relieved that an arrest and continuing investigation have stopped a tremendous amount of theft, it is never easy to see people ruin their careers by trying to rip off taxpayers. Our tax dollars pay salaries of public employees, and we expect loyalty and truthfulness, but most of all, honesty."

The investigation is continuing, and Forrest County District Attorney Patricia Burchell is now involved. The case will be presented at the next meeting of the Forrest County Grand Jury.

Burchell said on Thursday, "We expect full prosecution."

Howard is being held in the Forrest County Jail. Investigators say they expect to make more arrests within the program.
The Youth Challenge Academy at Camp Shelby is part of the Mississippi National Guard's Youth Challenge program. According to the National Guard's website, more than 121,000 cadets have graduated from the program, and is described there as "a preventive rather than remedial at-risk youth program" with a mission "to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-18 year old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens."

The Academy at Camp Shelby graduates around 260 students in two classes each year, according to their website.

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