BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The former sheriff of Pickens County who pleaded guilty to scamming a local food bank to pocket money left over that was meant to feed inmates, will be spending over a year in jail.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney J.B. Ward, David Abston was sentenced to 18 months in prison during a court appearance in Birmingham Monday, as well as being ordered to pay $51,280.85 in restitution to the victims in the case.
Abston was initially looking at nearly 20 years in prison.
On July 23, Abston pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. Abston, who served as sheriff for 32 years, was arrested back in June and charged with defrauding the West Alabama Food Bank and his own church, the Highland Baptist Church of Gordo, by claiming to use the money to buy food to feed his inmates. Instead, he kept the leftover money for himself and wrote checks to purchase cheaper food for the inmates that was initially meant for the poor.
Prosecutors claim the scam happened between 2014 and 2018, where he took over $400,000.
“I think the outcome of the case shows that law enforcement officers who violate the public trust will be held accountable for their actions,” Ward said.
In a victim impact statement filed in court, West Alabama Food Bank director Jean Rykaczewski said the financial impact of Abston’s actions were significant.
“For 5 years, former Sheriff Abston purchased over 400,000 pounds of food, supposedly intending to distribute that food into the Gordo/Pickens County area in efforts to combat food insecurity in the area. He did not do that,” Rykaczewski wrote in her statment. “Due to his actions, many children, seniors, and families did not receive food intended to alleviate their hunger. In addition to causing undue stress amongst the citizens of Pickens County, his actions added to the distrust of law enforcement and government that exists today. This distrust has made it more difficult for us to identify people in need because of people are less willing to give us the personal information needed to ensure they qualify for our food.”
Abston could likely start serving his time at the beginning of 2020, Ward said.
On Monday, Abston’s attorneys Augusta Dowd and Hope Marshall sent out a statement, saying it was a privilege to represent him.
“While Sheriff Abston is deeply disappointed in today’s sentence, he has accepted responsibility for the wrong he committed and respects the court’s decision imposing consequences for his actions,” the statement read. “He will serve his sentence, do what good he can during his period of incarceration, and then return to the community he loves to continue his life of community involvement.”
Prior to this year, there was a law in place across Alabama that allowed sheriffs to pocket leftover money from jail food funds. The state legislature changed that this year, mandating that leftover money must be added to the following year’s operating budget for the department.
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