Sheriff Caught Buying Property With Jail Food Funds, Has Tipster Who Turned Him In Arrested

Another Alabama sheriff has been caught abusing a law that’s inexplicably still on the books. Over the course of three years, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin took home at least $750,000 in funds meant to be used to feed inmates in his jail. Thanks to another bad law, there’s no telling how much more than $750,000 Entrekin has pocketed, but he certainly seems to have a lot of disposable income. (h/t Guy Hamilton-Smith)

The News discovered the eye-popping figures on ethics disclosures that Entrekin sent to the state: Over the course of three years, he received more than $750,000 in extra compensation from “Food Provisions.” The exact amount over $750,000 is unclear, because Entrekin was not required to specify above a $250,000 a year threshold, the paper writes.

The paper also found that Entrekin and his wife own several properties worth a combined $1.7 million, including a $740,000 four-bedroom house in Orange Beach, Ala., purchased in September.

Without the provision funds, Entrekin earns a little more than $93,000 a year, the paper says.

This aligns Sheriff Entrekin with sheriffs around the state who have enriched themselves at the expense of their inmates. Some sheriffs did enough skimming to force the federal government to step in and slap them with consent decrees in which they promised to spend all jail food funds on jail food. Unfortunately, this did little to help the sheriffs live up to their end of the federal bargain. Sheriffs keep getting richer and inmates keep getting less and less to eat.

Entrekin has decided to blame the media for his current reputational woes.

In a statement emailed to NPR, Entrekin said the “liberal media has began attacking me for following the letter of the law.”

“The Food Bill is a controversial issue that’s used every election cycle to attack the Sheriff’s Office,” Entrekin said. “Alabama Law is clear regarding my personal financial responsibilities of feeding inmates. Until the legislature acts otherwise, the Sheriff must follow the current law.”

No one is forcing Entrekin to take home hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for feeding prisoners. The law allows this but does not require every sheriff running a jail to cut food expenses so there’s a difference to pocket. Yes, the problem ultimately lies with the legislature which has allowed this abomination of a law to remain on the books despite it repeatedly being the source of national controversy.

But this story continues to get worse. It appears the sheriff has managed to take a journalist’s source out of public circulation.

Sheets’ investigation has also made headlines because of the arrest of a key source.

Sheets spoke with a landscaper named Matt Qualls who mowed Entrekin’s lawn in 2015 and noticed the name of the account on his checks — the “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account.” He shared pictures with Sheets.

“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,” Qualls told Sheets. “I put two and two together and realized that that money could have gone toward some meat or something.”

Sheets’ initial story was published on Feb. 18. On Feb. 22, Qualls was arrested and charged with drug trafficking after an anonymous call complained of the smell of marijuana from an apartment.

How fortuitous that an anonymous call would come along only days after exposed Sheriff Entrekin’s discretionary spending. Even more fortuitously, another law enforcement agency actually performed the arrest (working with a drug task force that contained members of Entrekin’s force), giving the Sheriff mostly implausible deniability.

[S]pokeswoman Natalie Barton said via email Monday that the case against Qualls “belongs to and was initiated by the Rainbow City Police Department” and “[t]he Etowah County Sheriff’s Office did not have any involvement in the arrest of Mr. Qualls.”

But it did have some involvement. The drug enforcement unit included deputies of Entrekin’s. And it was the sheriff’s department that decided to stack charges against Qualls, which could seem him facing several years in prison.

Rainbow City Police Capt. John Bryant said that his department only charged Qualls with second-degree marijuana possession, possessing drug paraphernalia and felony possession of a controlled substance, namely a few Adderall pills that were not prescribed to him.

But records on the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office website show that Entrekin’s office charged Qualls with three additional crimes: another paraphernalia charge, another felony possession of a controlled substance charge, and felony drug trafficking. Penalties for drug trafficking are extremely steep in Alabama, where people have been imprisoned for life for the crime.

What the drug unit actually found bears almost no resemblance to the charging sheet. Qualls possessed marijuana butter, but rather than use the actual amount of marijuana contained in the apartment (and the butter) — which would have been less than 20 grams — Entrekin’s department decided to declare all of the butter to be marijuana, raising the total weight to 2.3 pounds. This conveniently clears the 2.2 pound bar needed to charge someone with drug trafficking. The chief of the Rainbow City Police, whose officers performed the arrest, says the Sheriff’s weight calculations are “inaccurate.”

Even stranger, Qualls is being charged even though it may not even be his marijuana. The arrest warrant shows a completely different address for Qualls. Qualls says he lives in Gadsen, while the warrant pinpoints his residence as Centre. The arrest took place in Rainbow City.

No matter what the spokesperson says, this is clearly a vindictive arrest of someone who made the mistake of outing a sheriff for blowing jail funds on himself. A 20-year-old who knows people who’ve gone to jail is expendable. It looks as though the sheriff is willing to ruin Qualls’ life for slightly inconveniencing his.