U.S. NEWS
12/31/2018 08:10 pm ET Updated Jan 01, 2019

Alabama Sheriff Pocketed $1.5 Million In ICE Funds For Immigrant Food: Report

State law allows sheriffs to pocket unspent food money. It's not clear that applies to federal dollars, too.

An Alabama sheriff personally banked $1.5 million in federal funds allocated to feed undocumented immigrants arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, according to an investigation by AL.com.

Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin collected the money over a three-year period beginning in 2011, AL.com reported. The funds were provided as part of a federal contract to use Etowah County Detention Center to hold hundreds of undocumented immigrants who face federal legal proceedings over their immigration status and any alleged crimes.

In addition, Entrekin also admitted at a news conference in early 2018 that he kept $750,000 in food funds from 2015 to 2017. He purchased a beach house valued at $740,000 soon after, The Birmingham News reported.

Alabama state law allows sheriffs to keep unspent money allocated for inmate food. The Southern Center for Human Rights says that the policy “invites public corruption.” Critics say the state law allowing sheriffs to pocket taxpayer funds should not apply to federal money.

AL.com, which includes The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and Mobile’s Press-Register, discovered Entrekin’s $1.5 federal windfall in a search of hundreds of pages of county and sheriff’s office records. Entrekin, who earns close to a $100,000 salary, turned over an additional $1.5 million during that time to Etowah County’s general fund for use on a variety of local needs, reported AL.com.

A local official confirmed that it’s routine for Entrekin and the county to split any unspent federal funds.

“With the ICE funds, the money comes in here, we show all the salaries that are paid ... and the different expenses that are paid for ICE that we’re required to show,” county Chief Administration Officer David Akins told AL.com. “At the bottom line, say if we had $100,000 [left] at the end of the year, then the [county] commission should get $50,000 and the sheriff would get $50,000.”

ICE could not immediately be reached for comment.

Entrekin told the News in 2018: “The law says [food funds are] a personal account and that’s the way I’ve always done it.” Not all Alabama counties allow the practice. Entrekin runs the only county facility holding hundreds of immigrant inmates for the federal government. 

Entrekin lost the GOP primary for sheriff in June and will leave his job in January. He blames news coverage of his beach house purchase for his loss.

Federal rates for housing undocumented immigrants vary from state to state. Immigrants likely to be incarcerated for long periods of time because of complicated cases tend to be sent to the cheapest places, such as Alabama, according to AL.com.

Inmates have complained about spoiled food served past expiration dates, and kitchen workers have confirmed that food is often rotten, reported AL.com. In one case, food collected in a train wreck was fed to inmates to save federal money that the sheriff and county could then pocket.

Inmate advocates have also complained about poor medical care and a lack of outdoor recreation at the Etowah County Detention Center. 

The law allowing sheriffs to pocket unspent food funds was at the center of a 2018 lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Forty-nine Alabama county sheriffs were sued over their refusal to produce public records revealing their take of funds allocated to feed inmates.

The organization has also called on U.S. attorneys in the state to investigate sheriffs pocketing federal funds.

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