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Gibson County sheriff indicted for illegally profiting from inmate labor

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(The Center Square) – The Gibson County sheriff has been indicted on 22 charges for improperly profiting off inmate labor.

Sheriff Paul Thomas was indicted on charges of theft, forgery, computer crimes and official misconduct.

Tennessee law prevents a sheriff or jailer from profiting off inmate labor but an investigation from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office found he knowingly received at least $181,644.50 in profit from inmate labor, including $113,000 in salary from Alliance Group.

Thomas was elected in 2014, 2018 and 2022.

Thomas holds 20% ownership and created the Alliance Group in 2020 with four local businessmen. The group includes three for-profit businesses including transportation for work release inmates, a transitional home called Orchard House and staffing assistance for local businesses.

Alliance received $1.4 million in inmate wage fees and deductions from February 2020 to October 2022 as at least 170 inmates were employed by the staffing agency and Alliance received $18 per day to transport the inmates to work. Additionally, 82 inmates resided at Orchard House instead of the Gibson County jail without prior approval and were charged $40 per day.

“Our investigators identified multiple deficiencies within the Sheriff’s Office that coincided with this scheme,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower said. “We also learned that Sheriff Thomas failed to disclose his ownership interest in Alliance in his annual filings with the Tennessee Ethics Commission and violated his duty to secure and properly guard inmates until they were lawfully discharged.”

The investigation found Thomas deceived the Tennessee Department of Correction by allowing 74 state inmates held in the Gibson County jail to reside at Orchard House without proper approval by a judge while listing the inmates as residing at the jail in the state offender management system.

The county collected $507,273 in reimbursements from TDOC for the fees, then paying the funds to Orchard House without TDOC’s knowledge or consent despite no contract existing between the county and Orchard House.

Thomas also had $449,000 in inmate wages deposited into a private account owned and controlled by the Alliance Group instead of the inmate commissary accounts.

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