Etowah County, Alabama, Sheriff Todd Entrekin stands accused of pocketing $750,000 from a fund designated for feeding prisoners, using all but $10,000 of the money to purchase a luxurious beach house, and using Alabama’s harsh anti-marijuana laws to punish the man who exposed the scandal.
The story begins in mid-February of this year. AL.com’s Connor Sheets reported that a 20-year-old man named Matt Qualls was working for a landscaping company that had been hired to work at the sheriff’s house.
When Qualls got paid, the checks had “Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account” in the heading, along with Entrekin’s home address.
“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,” Qualls told AL.com. “I put two and two together and realized that that money could have gone toward some meat or something.”
It could have, but it did not have to. According to Sheriff Entrekin and another sheriff similarly accused of pocketing $110,000 in inmate food funds, they are not breaking any law. They believe that Alabama law, as written, allows them to use the money to feed prisoners, yes, but that they may keep any excess funds after.
Attorneys for the Southern Center on Human Rights disagree and are suing over the practice. Attorney Aaron Littman explained that “many sheriffs believe it’s legal for them to do this,” which, of course, “creates an incentive for sheriffs to spend as little as possible on feeding folks.”
Six days after Qualls spoke to the media about Sheriff Entrekin’s “Food Provision Account” checks, an anonymous tip was reported on the odor of marijuana coming from Qualls’ apartment. When city police and members of the county drug enforcement team knocked and the door was opened, they could see a small quantity of marijuana on the table, according to the police report.
Qualls and his friends were cooperative with law enforcement, as marijuana users tend to be. He explained how he had 14 grams (a half ounce) of marijuana that he had mixed with five cups of butter in a Magical Butter machine, a device that makes marijuana-infused butter and oils used for cooking.
The local police department charged Qualls with a marijuana possession misdemeanor, a paraphernalia misdemeanor, and a felony possession charge for some non-prescribed Adderall pills.
But Sheriff Entrekin’s office piled on more charges. They claim Qualls was in felony possession of 1,042 grams of marijuana, based on the weight of the marijuana-infused butter. That weight is just over the one kilogram threshold that also garnered a felony drug trafficking charge for Qualls.
Under Alabama law, for misdemeanor possession, Qualls might face as much as a year in prison and a $6,000 fine. But for felony possession, he will serve a mandatory minimum year-and-a-day in prison, with the possibility of ten years and $15,000 fine.
The felony drug trafficking charge, though, would guarantee Qualls three years in prison, with the possibility of ninety-nine years behind bars, along with the $25,000 maximum fine.
To recap, a sheriff fed his prisoners as cheaply as possible so he could buy a beach home, then made sure the young man who told on him might spent life behind bars, and it may all be 100 percent legal.