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Smith: Food fund rules aren't clear

By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER Managing editor
The media attention given to the recent indictment of Mobile County Sheriff Jack Tillman for pocketing money from the food account used to feed inmates in the Mobile County jail led The Standard to ask how the account is handled locally.
Tillman was recently indicted on charges of theft for pocketing approximately $13,000 of the food fund money set aside for inmates which he put it into a personal account. He also put $100,000 into a certificate of deposit, according to news accounts.
The way sheriffs in the Alabama Sheriffs Association read the law is that they see this money as an entitlement. Outsiders believe that since sheriffs receive salaries, money that comes from state or federal government intended for feeding prisoners should go entirely to the food fund and not be pocketed.
According to Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith, he believes it should be one way or another.
Smith said when he became sheriff two years ago, there wasn't enough money to pay the bills. As a result, he put nearly $2,000 of his own money into the account.
Currently, the state hands over $1.75 per inmate per day to go toward the food fund. Meals average 58 cents a meal in Escambia County. Smith said that there is no money to take out of the food account in Escambia County.
Moreover, the jail houses federal inmates, which means those jails get more money and the menus must abide by the U.S. Marshal and Immigration Naturalization Service (INS) guidelines.
He added that the inmates get fed very well, the menus are rotated and everyone is fed the same meal.
Smith said the way he looks at it, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson has chosen to indict Tillman in an area of the law that appears to be a gray area for most Alabama sheriffs.
But, it's an either/or for Smith, who said that he has never taken a dime out of the account and doesn't see it as enough to "skim off the top."