Alabama — Sheriffs in Alabama have found an unscrupulous means of stealing money from the taxpayers of their state by embezzling money from funds that are collected for the purpose of feeding inmates. It is not an isolated incident either.
In only three years, one Alabama sheriff stole over $110,000 in taxpayer dollars that was slated to feed inmates in the jail his department oversees. During the same period, another sheriff was caught writing checks for personal expenses from a similar taxpayer-funded program intended to feed inmates. Others were caught using the money to loan shark. None of the sheriffs has been charged and they all claim their outright theft of tax dollars is entirely legal.
These sheriffs and many more across the state of Alabama are now the subject of a lawsuit jointly filed Jan. 5 by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.
As AL.com reports, the sheriffs contend that they are not breaking the law by taking thousands of federal, state and municipal tax dollars that they receive each year as allocations to feed inmates in their jails. The two sheriffs – and likely others across the state – say they are following the letter of a longstanding Alabama state law that they believe allows for them to keep any funds designated to feed county jail inmates that do not end up being used for that purpose.
Not only are these sheriffs taking tax dollars that are slated to feed people in their jails, but they are doing so at the expense of the inmates’ health.
According to the lawsuit, as reported by AL.com, the two centers sued 49 Alabama county sheriffs over their “refusal” for a period of several months “to produce public records showing whether, and if so by how much, they have personally profited from funds allocated for feeding people in their jails,” according to a statement they released last month.
The lawsuit contends that the sheriffs know what they are doing is illegal. It also points out the perverse incentives created by such a greedy interpretation. To fill their pockets at the end of the year, sheriffs now have an incentive to feed inmates minimal and low-quality food.
“Our position is that this practice is illegal now, but it’s clear that many sheriffs believe its legal for them to do this,” Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, told AL.com.
“Clearly this is a practice which is problematic because it creates an incentive for sheriffs to spend as little as possible on feeding folks … and obviously when a minimal amount of money is approved for something and less than that is spent, the quality suffers.”
Monroe County Sheriff Thomas Tate provided the centers with a copy of a handwritten ledger from his office which detailed the taxpayer money he collected to feed inmates in his custody.
The documents show that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office received a total of $423,364.60 over that three-year period to pay for a total of 83,878 days worth of meals for inmates – a measure referred to as “inmate days” – in the county’s jails. Of that money, $110,459.77 was “declared excess and paid to Sheriff Thomas Tate,” according to the ledgers.
The amount of “excess” funds Tate received rose each year, despite the fact that the number of inmate days fell each year and the per diem amounts paid to his office – $1.80 per state inmate per day; $5 per municipal inmate per day; and $10 per federal inmate per day- did not change between 2014 and 2016. In 2014, he pocketed less than $29,000; in 2016, he personally received more than $44,000. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Monroe County was home to just 23,068 residents.
“I do it just like the law tells us to. That’s about all I have to say about that,” Tate said during a brief phone interview with AL.com Friday. “We feed all our inmates good and the excess goes to the sheriff. If you declare it excess, you take it and you pay taxes on it.”
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin was so brazen about his theft of tax dollars that he was writing checks directly from the fund. This prompted one of the people receiving the checks to speak out.
“I saw that in the corner of the checks it said Food Provision, and 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 or something,” said Matt Qualls, who received these checks for mowing the Sheriff’s lawn and the lawns of his family.
But that’s not all. A corrupt sheriff in Morgan County, Ana Franklin was caught using her inmate food fund to bankroll a used car lot which has since gone bankrupt—to the tune of $150,000.
When the top cops across an entire state are enriching themselves at the expense of the ones they claim to be rehabilitating, something has gone very wrong. This is not a few bad apples. This is a widespread problem of theft with the side effect of inhumane treatment of inmates and the sheriffs have no problem admitting to it. After all, as top cops, who will hold them accountable?
Hopefully, as this lawsuit progresses and more people become aware of this practice, the taxpayers of Alabama will refuse to be extorted to fund used car lots and lawnmowers. Please share this article with your friends and family to show them haw brazen theft is deemed acceptable by those sworn to uphold the law. Only by shining light into the darkness will this ever stop.