- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - A dining hall manager has been arrested and accused of stealing steaks, seafood and other edibles that belonged to the Mississippi National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy, authorities said Thursday.

Jerry L. Howard, 50, owner of Jerry’s Seasoned Food in Hattiesburg, was free on bond after being booked on a charge of grand larceny, State Auditor Stacey Pickering said at a news conference at Camp Shelby. A grand jury will get the case next to decide on an indictment.

Pickering said his investigators determined that large quantities of invoiced food never appeared on cafeteria menus.

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Pickering and National Guard Maj. Gen. Augustus Collins said investigators found food at Howard’s home and restaurant that belonged to the academy that serves at-risk youth between ages 16 and 18.

“We’re not sure when it started,” 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.”

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.

The types of food found in Howard’s home and restaurant included rib-eye steaks and seafood, said Brett Kittredge, a spokesman for Pickering’s office.

He said the program follows dietary guidelines set for high schools. “You don’t usually get steaks and rib-eyes in high school,” he said.

Kittredge estimated the amount of food involved was worth $100,000 and $150,000.

“It is never easy to see people ruin their careers by trying to rip-off taxpayers,” Pickering said.

Two business phone listings for Howard were disconnected and there was no answer at a home listing under his name.

The auditor’s office said more arrests are possible.

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