March 15, 2018

With Legal Loophole, Alabama Sheriff Takes $750k Earmarked for Inmate Food, Spends $740k on Beach House

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

Etowah County Sheriff, Todd Entrekin, used a depression-era law that allows sheriffs to “keep and retain” unspent money from accounts provisioned for jail food. Sheriffs across the state are permitted to take the money as personal income, although they are also personally liable for any gap. Entrekin does not dispute using the funds as a personal account, and many sheriffs across Alabama do the same thing. Generally, the public does not know how much money a sheriff is taking, because sheriffs do not need to report extra income of less than $250k. Without these funds, Entrekin would earn slightly over $93k a year.

Entrekin has received more than $750k from this fund in the past three years. He and his family own $1.7M in property, including a $740k beach house, which was purchased last September. However, Entrekin has accrued debt from this law as well. When his predecessor died in 2009, the account went directly into the predecessor’s estate, and Entrekin had to borrow $150k to keep the inmates fed. During that time, Entrekin argued that the law should be changed.

Sheriffs receive money from the State, as well as from local governments, to cover the cost of feeding inmates. For a state inmate, they receive less than $2 a day, but the amount for city or county inmates can be higher. If sheriffs feed inmates for less than the amount they receive, they can keep the remainder. Critics of the law argue that it creates perverse incentives, such as incentivizing sheriffs to feed inmates extremely low quality food, or to arrest more people so more funds are allocated to the fund.

The federal government occasionally goes after sheriffs for being too skimpy with the food budget. In 2009, a sheriff went to prison for feeding inmates inadequately, including feeding some inmates nothing but corn dogs for weeks.  In January, inmate advocacy groups sued for access to records that might reveal how much sheriffs were profiting from the practice. The law remains on the books.

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