Alabama sheriff pocketed $750K in inmate food money as a result of unusual law
An Alabama sheriff who is paid $93,000 a year was able to pocket more than $750,000 from excess money in an inmate food fund over a three-year period, thanks to a state law passed before World War II.
Sheriff Todd Entrekin of Etowah County revealed the compensation on ethics disclosure forms filed with the state, AL.com reports. He relied on a state law that says sheriffs may “keep and retain” leftover prisoner meal money; many sheriffs in the state have interpreted the law to allow them to personally keep leftover funds rather than turn the money over to the county.
Entrekin and his wife own properties, separately or together, that have an assessed value of more than $1.7 million, according to AL.com. Their latest purchase, made in September, was a home in an upscale neighborhood in Orange Beach, Alabama, for $740,000.
Two civil rights groups sued 49 Alabama sheriffs in January in an effort to learn whether they personally pocketed leftover inmate meal money. The suit says that keeping meal money for personal use creates a perverse incentive to spend as little as possible on the feeding the inmates.
One person who questioned the quality of inmate meals was a landscaper, 20-year-old Matt Qualls, who told AL.com last month that Entrekin paid him to mow his lawn for several months in 2015 using a check labeled “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account.”
“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,” Qualls told AL.com.
Qualls was arrested four days after the story was published, based on an anonymous tip about a marijuana smell coming from an apartment, AL.com reported. Officers from the Rainbow City Police Department and the Etowah County Drug Enforcement Unit made the arrest. Rainbow City charged Qualls with marijuana possession, while Etowah County charged Qualls with felony trafficking based on the weight of marijuana-infused butter found in the apartment.
Qualls accepted a plea deal that lowered the trafficking charge to first-degree marijuana possession, AL.com reported. The charge will be dismissed if he successfully completes a drug court program.
Entrekin’s election opponent, Rainbow City Police Chief Jonathon Horton, has pledged to use any excess inmate food funds for things that will benefit taxpayers. “There’s been a tremendous amount of money left over that shouldn’t be used as a bonus check,” he told AL.com.
Entrekin told AL.com in an email that the jail uses a registered dietitian to ensure adequate meals are provided for jail inmates. “As you should be aware, Alabama law is clear as to my personal financial responsibilities in the feeding of inmates,” he wrote. “Regardless of one’s opinion of this statute, until the legislature acts otherwise, the sheriff must follow the current law.”
Hat tip to the Marshall Project.
Updated at 1 p.m. to include information on Qualls’ plea deal.