Todd Entrekin, Etowah County sheriff, has become a national punchline as the mainstream press has picked up on his outrageously greedy scheme. This is the same Entrekin whom the Alabama Republic Party, in 2013, named a "rising Republican star." From the ALGOP press release:
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin is this week’s Rising Republican Star. Sheriff Entrekin has brought a wealth of experience and a vision to the Sheriff’s office of Etowah County. He became Sheriff of Etowah in 2007, when Governor Bob Riley appointed him after the passing of Sheriff James Hayes, but Todd’s career in law enforcement began long before that. . . .
Since his appointment in 2007, Sheriff Entrekin set several benchmarks for the department to reach and all of those benchmarks have already been accomplished.
It sounds like Entrekin's No. 1 benchmark was to line his own pockets -- and he certainly has accomplished that. In perhaps the finest piece of journalism to come from al.com in the 2000s, Connor Sheets reports:
In September, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin and his wife Karen purchased an orange four-bedroom house with an in-ground pool and canal access in an upscale section of Orange Beach for $740,000.
To finance the purchase, Entrekin got a $592,000 mortgage from Peoples Bank of Alabama, according to public real estate records. The home is one of several properties with a total assessed value of more than $1.7 million that the couple own together or separately in Etowah and Baldwin counties.
Some Etowah County residents question how a county sheriff making a five-figure annual salary can afford to own multiple houses, including one worth nearly three-quarters of a million dollars.
But ethics disclosure forms Entrekin filed with the state reveal that over the past three years he has received more than $750,000 worth of additional "compensation" from a source he identified as "Food Provisions."
Entrekin did not deny that he received the money when asked about it via email last week. Ethics forms he filed in previous years do not list any income from such a source.
To prove he does not lack for audacity, Entrekin actually tried to defend his actions -- seemingly drawing even more attention from the national press. Consider this, from Fox News:
Entrekin like other Alabama sheriffs believe a pre-World War II state law allows them to keep any “excess inmate-feeding funds” for themselves. However, in counties such as Jefferson and Montgomery, any excess money is supposed to be given to the county government.
In forms filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission, Entrekin reported he made “more than $250,000 each of the past three years via the inmate-feeding funds.”
Radley Balko, at The Washington Post, wrote about the scheme with a sense of disbelief, given that Entrekin has an annual salary of $92,000:
[Entrekin's] response when contacted for the story is priceless:
“As you should be aware, Alabama law is clear as to my personal financial responsibilities in the feeding of inmates. Regardless of one’s opinion of this statute, until the legislature acts otherwise, the Sheriff must follow the current law.”
So he had no choice, you see. He didn’t want to do it, but his hands were tied! He was bound by law to use funds designated for inmate meals to purchase beach homes for he and his wife. Just part of the sacrifice one makes for a career in public service.
The New York Daily News, referring to Entrekin as a "leech," focused on the political opposition that Entrekin's sticky fingers are attracting:
"I believe the funds belong to the taxpayers and any excess funds should go toward things that benefit the taxpayer," said Rainbow City Police Chief Jonathon Horton.
A former member of the Etowah County Sheriff's Office, Horton is running against Entrekin in this year's race for sheriff.
Said Horton, "There's been a tremendous amount of money left over that shouldn't be used as a bonus check."
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum reports that "Alabama sheriffs are living large":
Let’s tear our gaze away from the swamp in Washington DC and check in on the swamp of Etowah County in Alabama. Todd Entrekin, the sheriff there, just bought a vacation home for $740,000, bringing his total real estate empire to $1.7 million. Where did the money come from?
Ethics disclosure forms Entrekin filed with the state reveal that over the past three years he has received more than $750,000 worth of additional “compensation” from a source he identified as “Food Provisions.”
Fascinating. Can you tell us more . . . ?
Entrekin told AL.com last month that he has a personal account that he refers to as his “Food Provision” fund. And Etowah County resident Matthew Qualls said that in 2015 Entrekin paid him to mow his lawn via checks with the words “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account” printed in the upper-left corner. AL.com viewed a photograph of one such check.
Drum seemed just a tad incredulous at all of this:
Apparently the state of Alabama makes the sheriff personally responsible for everything related to food in the jails he operates. They give him a lump sum, and he gets to keep anything left over. You know, sort of a good ol’ boy slush fund that’s managed to survive all the way into the 21st century.
But as much as I’d like to be outraged, this kind of penny-ante corruption is actually sort of soothing compared to what’s happening in DC. It just goes to show that when rural folks complain that “the America I know” is slipping away, they’re not seeing the whole picture. In Alabama, at least, it’s still going strong.