Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin has been accused of taking $750,000 in public funds intended to feed prisoners in jail and used the money to buy an attractive four-bedroom house on the beach in Alabama. The lawman also used the “food provision account” to have his lawn maintained. According to Entrekin, the diversion of funds is allowed by Alabama law. He claimed that a law dating back more than 70 years allows Alabama sheriffs to keep excess money for prisoners’ rations for themselves. Prisoners at th Etowah County lockup receive $1.75 in food each day.
According to the Birmingham News, the Republican sheriff is not required to report the windfall, which can be more than $250,000 per year.
The house Entrekin bought is located in Orange Beach, a beach town near Pensacola, Florida. The residence was added to his $1.7 million real estate portfolio in September. It has two-and-a-half bathrooms, a modern kitchen, an in-ground swimming pole, a wraparound veranda, and a boat dock with access to a canal. With a salary of approximately $93,000, Entrekin has collected about six houses throughout Alabama.
Even though the funds for prisoners’ food came from local, state, and federal taxpayers, there was no requirement for the money to be return to the public treasury. To pay for lawn care, Entrekin paid for the services with checks marked “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account.”
Entrekin maintains that his practice is legal. Despite facing a statewide lawsuit, Entrekin said, according to Fox News, “The law says it's a personal account and that's the way I've always done it and that's the way the law reads and that's the way I do business. That's the way the law's written.” He added, “In regards to feeding of inmates, we utilize a registered dietitian to ensure adequate meals are provided daily. 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 issue has taken a political cast. In the coming election, Entrekin's opponent is Rainbow City Police Chief Jonathan Horton, who believes taxpayer funding should benefit the public. “There's been a tremendous amount of money left over that shouldn't be used as a bonus check,” he said.
Matthew Qualls was arrested on drug charges recently, soon after he publicly criticized Entrekin for keeping the food provision fund surplus. Responding to an anonymous tip that the scent of marijuana was detected coming from an apartment where he was found, Qualls was arrested. He was released from custody after accepting a plea deal that followed public condemnation of his arrest.
Touted as a rising star in Republican circles, on February 1, Entrekin's re-election campaign received one of its largest single contributions so far. The Network Communications International Corporation (NCIC) of Texas donated $5000 to his campaign. Coincidently, Etowah County awarded on September 20, 2016, a contract to NCIC to provide "inmate telephone services.” Also, Chevrolet of Boaz contributed $500 to the re-election campaign in October 2013. It also contributed $1,000 to thes campaign in October 2017 under its former name, Kilpatrick Chevrolet. Coincidently, Etowah County awarded Chevrolet of Boaz a contract in December 2014 to provide the sheriff's department with "1500 Crew Cab 4WD Truck (or comparable.)"
According to Bill Britt of Alabama Political Reporter, Entrekin was once so short of public funds to buy prisoners' meals that he mortgaged his own home to obtain the money required. Entrekin contends that upon becoming sheriff, he set upon running the sheriff's department efficiently and like a business. Britt contends that a lawsuit that was filed against 49 of Alabama's 67 counties by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights and joined by Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, has ignored and distorted facts about "county sheriffs’ use of funds provided to feed inmates held in county jails."
According to Britt, most Alabama sheriffs are responsible for providing meals to prisoners in their custody. While sheriffs are allowed to keep for their personal use money not used to feed prisoners, Britt wrote that "when there is not enough money to buy food for county-held inmates, it is their sheriff who must provide the meals out of his own pocket."
The lawsuit is asking the court in Hale County, Alabama, to compel 49 "Alabama sheriffs for access to public records showing how sheriffs personally profit from funds allocated for feeding people in jail.” The Southern Center for Human Rights states in a press release, “Many sheriffs in Alabama contend that a state law authorizing them to personally ‘keep and retain’ taxpayer dollars provided for feeding people in their jails permits them to take any amounts they do not spend on food as personal income.” The group also claims, “This archaic system is based on a dubious interpretation of state law that has been rejected by two different Attorneys General of Alabama, who concluded that the statute merely allows sheriffs to manage the money and use it for official purposes not to line their own pockets.”