Sheriff Todd Entrekin of Etowah County, Alabama, lost his re-election bid this year after he was found to have personally pocketed $750,000 allotted for feeding inmates in county lockup and using it to buy himself a beach house. Ethical questions aside, Entrekin's taking was legal under Alabama law — but a further $1.5 million he took home from funds for feeding federal immigration detainees may not be.
The Etowah County Detention Center has a contract with the federal government to house several hundred undocumented immigrants awaiting adjudication. With that contract comes federal funding from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to feed the detainees, money AL.com reports Entrekin has treated exactly like state and municipal funds: Any surplus is split 50/50 between the county's general fund and the sheriff himself, so a $3 million surplus gave Entrekin a $1.5 million bonus.
As Entrekin protested when the beach house story broke, that accounting is legal in Alabama. AL.com's report notes "multiple Alabama state attorneys general over the past decade [have agreed] sheriffs can in fact pocket funds allocated by the state to feed inmates that are not used for that purpose." But federal funds are likely a different story.
"There's pretty much no way that the federal government is okay with this," George Washington University law professor Randall Eliason told AL.com. "Regardless of what he argues about the Alabama law, if it comes to light that he's taking these federal funds that are supposed to be used to feed and house federal prisoners, and instead is putting [hundreds of thousands of] dollars in his pocket, that would be of great interest to federal prosecutors."
Entrekin said in July his use of the food money is under Department of Homeland Security investigation, and, before leaving office, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged Alabama's U.S. attorneys to investigate as well. Etowah County detainees have reported chronic poor treatment including service of inadequate and even rotten food.