Leroy Upshaw, 52, who served as sheriff in Barbour County, Alabama, from 2007 to 2019, was sentenced this week to 10 years in prison for stealing over $32,000 from the sheriff’s department.
Mr. Upshaw was arrested in 2020 for allegedly stealing more than $85,000 from multiple accounts belonging to the sheriff’s office. In early 2021, he was indicted by a Barbour County grand jury on charges that he had used his office for personal gain, which is a Class B felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison.
Mr. Upshaw pleaded guilty on June 27 and was sentenced to 10 years and a $30,000 fine, WSFA reported yesterday. He received a split sentence, which means Mr. Upshaw will serve three years in Barbour County Community Corrections.
A special agent with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office testified at the sentencing hearing that Mr. Upshaw stole $32,135.85 from the sheriff’s office by writing checks to himself and by directing an employee to write checks to him, according to WSFA.
The stolen funds were meant for law enforcement purposes and to care for people in the sheriff’s custody.
Even after the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts ordered Mr. Upshaw to repay $29,000, WSFA reports, he did not pay it back. Instead, he stole another $29,000 from the sheriff’s office funds to repay the department.
Prosecutors told WSFA that Mr. Upshaw was convicted and sentenced for both the theft and subsequent cover-up of his crime.
In 2008, then-Sheriff Upshaw told NPR that his department had to rely on aggressive asset seizures because they lacked funding for basic equipment.
“We’re a very poor department. The county commission don’t give us much money,” he said. “In fact, they don’t allow us any money for equipment. So we use seized drug money to buy basic items that should be provided to us, such as bulletproof vests, gun belts, guns. Nine out of 14 cars been bought with drug money.”
Sheriff Upshaw’s Chief Deputy, Eddie Ingram, told NPR he and his officers had discovered more than $11 million in drug assets over 15 years. Police agencies that make a seizure can keep up to 80%, according to NPR.
But Mr. Upshaw left a financially strapped and indebted department to his successor, current Barbour County Sheriff Tyrone Smith. Mr. Smith told ProPublica after taking office in 2019 that the transition from his predecessor had “really been a challenge” for his office.
After Mr. Upshaw lost the June primary election, ProPublica reported, he stopped selling pistol permits (which brought in about $5,400 per month) and halted the jail’s work-release program (with hundreds of dollars in revenue per month), leaving the department without enough money to replace outdated equipment, including radar detectors and body cameras.
“There’s some things that my deputies need right now that the funding is not available for right now,” Mr. Smith told ProPublica.
In addition, Mr. Smith said there was “not much” money in the sheriff’s discretionary funds, jail food funding was about “$6,000 in arrears,” and “there was not a lot of food” in the jail’s kitchen when he took office.
Alabama sheriffs long relied on a Depression-era statute to pocket likely millions of taxpayer dollars designated for feeding people in county jails.
Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin released tax forms showing he made a profit of $672,392 from the jail kitchen in 2015 and 2016; he lost reelection in 2018 after reports that he had purchased a $740,000 beach house earlier that year.
In 2009, a federal judge held Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett, who made $212,000 over three years off excess food funds, in contempt of court for failing to feed inmates properly.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a memorandum to the state comptroller in 2018 ordering that state funds for jail food must be paid to county general funds or official accounts rather than to sheriffs personally. But advocates expressed concern that the directive would not stop sheriffs from keeping funds allocated to feed people in county jails.