Bartlett Busted: U.S. Marshals Arrest Morgan County Sheriff

8th January, 2009
WHNT News Channel 19 Transcript
Greg Privett

Federal agents busted Morgan County sheriff Greg Bartlett, Wednesday night. They took him to the federal prison in Talladega.

Bartlett was busted all because of jail food.

WHNT NewsChannel 19's Special Investigations Unit revealed in 2007 how some Alabama sheriff's pocket jail food profit.

It's legal. But, it's controversial.

In Batlett's case, though, the judge has leverage to do something about it. That's because Morgan County's jail is operating under a federal consent decree.

U.S. Marshals tore through Decatur. They ran a stop sign, then a red light. What's their hurry? The marshals were rushing Sheriff Bartlett to jail. On his way to the federal lock-up, U.S. Marshals helped keep the sheriff out-of-sight from news cameras. Before we could get our camera rolling, a U.S. Marshal vehicle jumped a curb. A side door to Decatur's federal courthouse flew open. Then, Bartlett -- apparently uncuffed -- and a Marshal dove into the SUV, rushed off, and allowed the sheriff to make a stop at his office.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, another U.S. Marshal was pretending to get a car ready to take Bartlett away -- even going to the extreme of asking photographers to clear a path.

That may have been a charade, but Bartlett's arrest is real.

Federal judge U.W. Clemon is the one who ordered Bartlett behind bars. During Wednesday's hearing on jail food, Clemon said: "This court hereby orders U.S. Marshals to take Sheriff Greg Bartlett into custody. And he will remain in custody until he convinces the court that he will adopt measures to purge himself of contempt."

The civil contempt resulted from the way Bartlett feeds inmates in his jail. The judge said, "I find by clear and convincing evidence there's been an inadequate diet."

Clemon slammed the sheriff for pocketing jail food profit left over from what the state pays Bartlett to feed inmates. "It's in the sheriff's financial interest to pay as little for food as possible," Clemon reasoned.

The judge showed his disappointment at how Bartlett is, in effect, running his own business out of the jail's kitchen. Taxpayers provide the free kitchen. Businesses often donate food. Or Bartlett buys it at a bargain.

In court, Sheriff Bartlett testified he recently paid just $500 for his half of an 18-wheeler load of insurance-salvaged corn dogs. He split the haul with Limestone County sheriff Mike Blakely.

Bartlett's kitchen even has a supervising sergeant who has his own county-owned Chevy Tahoe complete with county-provided gasoline.

Plus, the sheriff gets free help from inmates. Some of those inmates complained they were going hungry.

Clemon ruled, "The court finds that the sheriff has failed to provide a nutritionally adequate diet to inmates of the Morgan County jail because it is in his best interest not to do so. He makes money by failing to spend the designated funds for food for the inmates. Last year, he supplemented his salary by nearly $100,000."

After keeping his profit a secret, Bartlett was forced in court to admit he made $95,000 in jail food profit last year. In 2007, his profit was $62,000. And he took home $55,000 in profit in 2006. Add that to Bartlett's annual salary of around $65,000.

Judge Clemon wasn't happy. "The sheriff's conduct in this regard was knowing and willful and cannot be tolerated by this court," he said from the bench.

Clemon said Sheriff Bartlett holds the key to his jail cell. Basically, that means if Bartlett offers the judge what he wants to hear, then he'll go free. Bartlett's attorneys have already submitted a proposal they faxed to the judge's home Wednesday night. That proposal likely includes the sheriff giving up any jail food profit.

To view the sheriff's proposal and court order, click here.

To view the findings of fact, click here.