ETOWAH COUNTY, AL (RNN) - An Alabama sheriff's use of a fund meant to feed inmates is under scrutiny.
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin took money from the fund for his personal use over the last three years, he admitted to AL.com. He saved up "more than $250,000," as reported on ethics forms.
In September, he purchased a four-bedroom beachfront home in Orange Beach, AL, worth about $750,000, one of several properties he and his wife own, AL.com reported.
He said a state statute passed before World War II allows him and other sheriffs to keeps funds earmarked to feed prisoners.
Entrekin also said the county employs a dietitian to "ensure adequate meals are provided daily" at the jail.
"As you should be aware, Alabama law is clear as to my personal financial responsibilities in the feeding of inmates," Entrekin said. "Regardless of one's opinion of this statute, until the legislature acts otherwise, the sheriff must follow the current law."
Etowah County resident Matthew Qualls said the sheriff paid him in 2015 to mow a lawn with a check labeled "Sheriff Todd Entrekin Food Provision Account."
Qualls, 20, was arrested on drug charges four days after talking to AL.com about the sheriff's funds. He accepted a plea deal and is attending a drug court program as a first-time offender.
Two advocacy groups, Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, filed suit in January against 49 Alabama sheriffs over the practice as part of a long-running dispute over the issue. They seek records showing how much the sheriffs profit from inmate food funds.
"This archaic system is based on a dubious interpretation of state law that has been rejected by two different attorneys general of Alabama, who concluded that the law merely allows sheriffs to manage the money and use it for official purposes, not to line their own pockets," said Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights.
"It also raises grave ethical concerns, invites public corruption, and creates a perverse incentive to spend as little as possible on feeding people who are in jail," he said.
In 2009, a federal judge jailed a sheriff in north Alabama for pocketing money meant for inmates and serving inadequate meals to prisoners, CNN reported.
Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett kept $212,000 over three years, the New York Times reported, while there was "undisputed evidence that most of the inmates had lost significant weight."
Bartlett spent a day in jail, and was released after he vowed to provide healthier meals.
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