PICKENS COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - Former Pickens County Sheriff, David Abston, resigned in June after pleading guilty to fraud charges.
Abston is accused of setting up a fake account through his church food pantry in order to buy food from the West Alabama Food Bank at reduced prices.
Apparently, he then use the discounted food to feed the inmates at his jail and pocketed the difference for himself, lying about it on his taxes.
He resigned from office, but we wanted to know what is going to happen to all the state pension money he was entitled to?
That’s where things get tricky. Sheriffs in our state have two different retirement systems depending on where they serve. Some sheriffs are part of the Employee Retirement System, part of the big Retirement Systems of Alabama umbrella. Other sheriffs, is part of a different system set up back in the 70′s called the Supernumerary system.
ERS rules there are pretty clear, it says in their policy “any member convicted of a felony offense related to their public position must forfeit their right to lifetime retirement benefits.”
Sheriff Abston is under the Supernumerary system. This system was set up for county officials,including Pickens County Sheriff , who were not going into the ERS system. Here, the law doesn’t spell out what happens to someone convicted of crimes related to their office and then resigns or is removed. We asked the Attorney General’s office for guidance, and they sent us an opinion from 2014, about the Fayette County Sheriff removed from office. They concluded a sheriff removed from office by felony conviction forfeits their years of service and that means they are kicked out of the system. Basically, the system disregards all their years of service prior to their conviction, making them ineligible for the retirement,
But here’s where it gets questionable: This refers to someone removed from office, but Sheriff Abston resigned as part of his plea deal, or just before he took the plea deal.
We called the Pickens County Sheriff and are still waiting to hear back. Is Sheriff Abston going to ask for for his pension? We’ve asked his attorney that question and we’re still waiting to hear back from them. In the meantime, what we do know for sure from the 2014 Fayette County opinion--- if this applies to Sheriff Abston, he will get to keep all of the money he’s been putting into the system himself, which is about 6% of his salary, at least since 1987 when he took office. But what you and I contributed as taxpayers, it looks like he may not be entitled to that. If they want more guidance, the Attorney General’s office says the County Commission could apply for a new opinion, when we get some answers from the county, you can be sure we’ll let you know.