0

Police: Theft suspect lives many lies

DULUTH -- Authorities say Robert Jones Howard fancies himself as many things that he is not: a Navy Seal, Harvard doctor, military fund-raising director, even a bioterrorism expert.

Duluth police identify him with two less-flattering labels: vandal and thief.

Howard, 61, was charged in 2010 with destroying government property after surveillance video reportedly caught him spray-painting a police lieutenant's name, and the word "fraud," on several columns at Duluth City Hall.

His motivation, police said then, was a $1,000 fine imposed after police had caught him selling trinkets without a business license, which left him disgruntled.

This week, Howard was again jailed by Duluth police -- an incident that allowed a glimpse at the lies he's been living, officials said.

On Jan. 21, Howard pocketed more than $1,000 in jewels at a Main Street business when the owner went to the back of the store. Several people witnessed the theft, and when the owner returned, Howard said he'd left his credit card in his vehicle. He walked out and never came back in, said Duluth police Detective Fran Foster.

"It wasn't the first time (Howard) has stole from (the owner), it was just the first time she had a witness," Foster said.

Officers secured an arrest warrant and served it this week at Howard's Pine Needle Drive home. There, they found a badge and old identification card Howard had been using to claim he was a special investigator with the Harris County Bioterrorism Unit in Texas, Foster said. The jewelry has not been recovered.

Howard had obtained the badge working as a volunteer in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Foster said.

"If a lay person would look at the badge, it looks official," she said. "My victim in this (theft) case thought Howard was part of the police department."

Witnesses to the theft and others in the Duluth community have told police Howard holds himself out as a cop, a Navy Seal, Harvard doctor and fund-raiser for military hospitals in Texas and the Ovarian Cancer Society.

"None of the stories are real," said Duluth police spokesman Maj. Don Woodruff. "Howard has no affiliation with any law enforcement agency, or any federal agency in Georgia."

Howard is being held without bond at the Gwinnett County Jail. His felony vandalism case is pending trial in Gwinnett Superior Court.