- A sheriff in Alabama pocketed nearly $1.5 million that was budgeted for feeding Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees, according to an investigation by Al.com.
- Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin had, earlier this year, acknowledged that he legally kept a total of $750,000 he got from the surplus of a federal contract, under which his county jail houses federal detainees, according to Al.com. He said he bought a beach house with that money.
- Records appear to show, however, that he pocketed twice the amount, according to Al.com.
For more than 20 years, the US has held immigrant detainees in Etowah County Detention Center, a jail in Alabama.
As part of a Depression-era state law, Alabama sheriffs are allowed to keep half of surplus jail funds meant to go toward food budgets.
Since Etowah County Detention Center is the only Alabama jail that houses immigrant detainees, this means that any extra money left behind after feeding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees must be split 50-50 between the county’s sheriff and the county’s fund.
Thanks to surpluses in 2016 and 2017, Todd Entrekin, the county’s sheriff, legally collected $750,000. Earlier this year, Entrekin said he bought a $740,000 beach house with the money after Al.com, the online version of Alabama’s largest newspaper, The Birmingham News, questioned him about it, according to the newspaper website.
He went on to lose reelection this year, a loss he credited to the newspaper’s investigation.
But in a new report, Al.com said Entrekin might have taken twice as much money home from the surplus.
According to the report, the county jail has, since 2011, built up a $3 million surplus from the federal-inmate food budget. Half of that money has gone to the county, and half of it went to the sheriff, Al.com reported.
Jessica Vosburgh, executive director of the Adelante Alabama Worker Center advocacy group, told Al.com these revelations should be enough to make ICE cancel its contract with the Alabama jail.
“I think, based on this information, [the federal government] unequivocally needs to terminate its contract with Etowah County,” Vosburgh said. “This is not a reputable, law-abiding partner for the federal government.”
Vosburgh has long been part of a circle of activists who’ve said the jail and Entrekin are involved in “shady dealings with money and food.”
It isn’t rare for county jails to house federal ICE detainees, but such deals have come under national scrutiny during the Trump presidency. Entrekin told Al.com that the jail will typically house about 850 inmates at any given time, of which about 300 are ICE detainees. A former detainee, Sanju Rajput, an Indian citizen, told Al.com the prison is “such a hell” for ICE detainees.
“We used to eat what we got: porridge in the morning, bread, jam, one or two more items [each day.] The food that we got was not enough,” Rajput said.
During his time as sheriff, Entrekin has fought hard to maintain his jail’s contract with the federal government, lobbying in Washington, DC, against any plans to scrap the deal.
When first questioned by Al.com about the $750,000 check, Entrekin said he was functioning under the law.
“It’s the law. I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said at the time. “If it’s wrong, somebody needs to change the law. I have asked [state legislators] to change the law and they have not changed it.”
Lawyers and former fraud investigators interviewed by the newspaper, however, think otherwise.
“There’s pretty much no way that the federal government is OK with this. 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,” Randall Eliason, a professor at George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC, told Al.com.
In July, Entrekin said the US Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General had launched an investigation into how he handled jail food funds.