PICKENS COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - Long-time Pickens County Sheriff David Abston has resigned, according to DA Andrew Hamlin.
The U.S. Department of Justice says an unsealed federal indictment charges Abston with seven counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false tax return. According to a plea agreement, Abston plans to plea guilty to one count of each charge.
“A sitting county sheriff is alleged to have defrauded a food bank and a church for his personal gain at the expense of the underprivileged that the food bank serves,” U.S. Attorney Jay Town said in a press release. “Our office will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute public officials who violate the public trust for their own personal gain.”
According to the indictment, Aboston engaged in a scheme to defraud the West Alabama Food Bank (WAFB) and Highland Baptist Church of Gordo, where he was a member, to reduce his jail food expenses and increase the amount of food allowance money he could keep.
According to the indictment, in 2014 Abston convinced Highland Baptist Church in Gordo to permit him to open a bank account to be used for a church food pantry with WAFB. Abston opened that bank account in the name of the Highland Baptist Church Food Pantry. Abston was the sole signatory on the account.
Around the same time, Abston applied, on behalf of the Highland Baptist Church Food Pantry, to become a partner agency of WAFB. The application to WAFB claimed that the “general program” of the church food pantry would be to help “feed poor” and “children from disadvantage[d] and poor neighborhoods,” according to the indictment. The application claimed that the food pantry would use unemployment, sickness and poverty as eligibility guidelines for food. The application said nothing about the food pantry’s providing any food to inmates in the Pickens County Jail.
Between 2014 and 2018, the indictment says Abston wrote more than $80,000 in checks from his own bank account to the church food pantry bank account, and wrote more than $80,000 in checks from the food pantry bank account to WAFB in exchange for food.
According to the indictment, Abston used a significant portion of that food to feed inmates in the Pickens County Jail. The indictment also alleges that Abston filed false tax returns for the 2015 and 2016 tax years, because he failed to report all of his income for those years.
Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. The maximum penalty for filing a false tax return is three years in prison and a $100,000 fine for each count.
Abston had served as sheriff since 1987. The Pickens County Coroner Chad Harliss was sworn in as sheriff Friday morning.
You can view the full press release from the U.S. District Attorney’s Office by clicking here.