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18-Month Prison Sentence for Former Alabama Sheriff in Food Bank Scam

by David M. Reutter

The former sheriff of Alabama’s Pickens County was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for a scam to defraud a food bank and his church, and pocketing leftover funds to feed detainees.

David Abston was sheriff for 32 years. As allowed by Alabama law, he was allotted a budget each year to feed the persons housed in his jai, and any monies leftover at year’s end was his to keep. The scam that put him in prison aimed to lower the cost of feeding prisoners and fatten his pockets.

Abston submitted an application with the West Alabama Food Bank (WAFB) to become a partner, and he convinced his church to create a bank account for a food pantry and to partner with WAFB. The application claimed the “general program” of the church pantry was to help feed “children from disadvantaged and poor neighborhoods.”

WAFB’s charges a nominal fee for the cost of food maintenance and storage and requires its partners to certify the food they receive serves only the ill, needy, or infants. Abston, however, used the partnership to reduce the costs of feeding the poor souls who landed in his jail.

The scam began in 2014 and continued until 2018. Abston resigned as sheriff when he was indicted in June 2019 on seven counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false tax return. He entered into a plea agreement on June 14 to one count of each charge. Abston and his attorneys argued “a term of incarceration will not make him a better person, nor will it improve society.”

Prosecutors pushed for a prison sentence. “The defendant did not merely commit fraud or cheat on his taxes,” they wrote in a court filing. “He orchestrated a criminal scheme that preyed on a nonprofit and the needy people it serves. Over a four-year period, the defendant took nearly half a million pounds of food from WAFB almost for free.”

The federal district court sentenced him on November 25, 2019.

The court agreed prison was a just consequence, and it sentenced Abston, 68, to serve 18 months in prison and to pay $86,335.57 in restitution to WAFB. See: United States v. Abston, USDC, N.D. Alabama, Case No. 7:19-cr-00312 


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Related legal case

United States v. Abston