A county sheriff in Alabama pocketed $750,000 in tax-payer funds allocated for the purchase of prison food, and felt comfortable admitting as much on publicly accessible ethics-disclosure forms because he contends the arrangement is currently legal under state law.
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin, who earns a five-figure salary, came under suspicion after residents noticed he owned four properties totaling $1.7 million. But a review of the disclosure forms conducted by AL.com revealed that the sheriff likely paid for the properties by legally (in his view) pilfering more than $250,000 in taxpayer money annually over a three-year period.
Entrekin claims an Alabama state law that predates World War II entitles him to pocket any funds left over in the county’s prison-food budget, which is allocated by federal, state, and municipal governments, and which he personally controls.
“In regards to feeding of inmates, we utilize a registered dietitian to ensure adequate meals are provided daily,” Entrekin told AL.com when asked about the disclosure forms Sunday via email. “As you should be aware, Alabama law is clear as to my personal financial responsibilities in the feeding of inmates. Regardless of one’s opinion of this statute, until the legislature acts otherwise, the Sheriff must follow the current law.”
The Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice jointly filed suit against 49 Alabama county sheriffs, including Entrekin, on January 5, challenging their interpretation of the statute.
“Our position is that this practice is illegal now, but it’s clear that many sheriffs believe it’s legal for them to do this,” Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, told AL.com. “Clearly this is a practice which is problematic because it creates an incentive for sheriffs to spend as little as possible on feeding folks…and obviously when a minimal amount of money is approved for something and less than that is spent, the quality suffers.”
It appears Entrekin also used the food-provision funds for more trivial expenses, including landscaping.
Matt Qualls mowed the sheriff’s lawn for several months in 2015. He was paid by checks, one of which was reviewed by AL.com and read “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account.”
“I saw that in the corner of the checks it said ‘Food Provision,’ and a couple people I knew came through the jail, and they say they got meat maybe once a month and every other day it was just beans and vegetables. I put two and two together and realized that that money could have gone toward some meat or something.”
Certain counties in Alabama have laws requiring that sheriffs return any excess funds not spent on food provision for jails, but Etowah County does not.
Entrekin appears to have further profited off the food-provision funds indirectly, in the form of property-investment returns and campaign contributions from businesses —including a car dealership and a bank — where he spent the funds.