State Auditor’s Office, Mississippi Military Department Announce Arrest Of Civilian Employee At Youth Challenge Program

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – State Auditor Stacey Pickering joined military officials during a news conference today at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg to announce the investigation and arrest of a non-military, civilian employee.

Pickering and Major General Augustus Collins identified those participating as personnel in the Mississippi National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy’s dining facility and include manager Jerry L. Howard. Howard, 50, was arrested on Saturday, May 24, 2014 and charged with Grand Larceny. His Hattiesburg residence and restaurant, Jerry’s Seasoned Food, were searched and food belonging to the Youth ChalleNGe Academy was confiscated at both locations.

“We’re not sure when it started,” Gen. Collins said, “but once we were certain that food ordered for the Youth ChalleNGe program was not being served, we contacted the State Auditor’s Office. Their investigators worked with military department auditors, which resulted in the arrest of the dining facility manager. We are grateful for their assistance with this unfortunate situation.”

Pickering said his Investigators determined that large quantities of the invoiced food never appeared on cafeteria menus. End of the year totals for food purchases increased from $216,000 in fiscal year 2009 to $306,000 in the previous fiscal year while the number of academy participants has remained virtually the same.

“While we are relieved that an arrest and the 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.” Pickering said. “Our tax dollars pay the salaries of public employees and we expect loyalty and truthfulness, but most of all honesty.”

The investigation is continuing and all the findings have been discussed with Forrest County District Attorney Patricia Burchell. This case will be presented to the next Forrest County grand jury.

The Mississippi ChalleNGe Academy is part of the National Guard Youth Guard Program and serves at-risk male and female youth ages 16-18. The program has graduated 7,675 young people in 39 classes since its inception in 1994.

Howard was released on a $10,000 bond on Tuesday, May 27, 2014.