Federal investigators weren’t able to take down former Sheriff Lawrence Hodge, but two local newspaper people, Samantha Swindler, 27, and Adam Sulfridge, 20, got the job done.
Hodge was considered “dirty”, but collecting the evidence needed in court was another matter. A young woman editor and a 20-year-old college student did the necessary digging and gathered the proof needed for prosecution.
On September 28, 2011, in London, Ky., Lawrence Hodge, former Whitley County Sheriff, was sentenced to 186 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution. In addition, Hodge was ordered to forfeit $64,897. Hodge pleaded guilty in May 2011 to conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to court documents, Hodge admitted that on at least three separate occasions between 2004 and 2007, he conspired with Williamsburg defense attorney Ron Reynolds to extort money from individuals that the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department charged with felony drug trafficking offenses. Specifically, Hodge referred criminal defendants to Reynolds for representation. Reynolds, acting on behalf of Hodge, encouraged these same clients to make forfeiture payments and/or cash donations to the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department. The department received more than $55,000 through this scheme. Reynolds was sentenced in July 2011 to 27 months in prison. Hodge also acknowledged that he conspired with numerous drug dealers in the Whitley County area to distribute prescription pills over a seven year period. In addition, Hodge admitted to conspiring with a former bookkeeper for the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department to embezzle and launder nearly $65,000 of funds belonging to the department. The money in this fund was supposed to be used to make controlled drug buys, pay informants, and to further other similar law enforcement objectives. Instead, Hodge told the bookkeeper to write him a check from the fund for one of these legitimate purposes, when in reality he was using the money to fund his own drug habit and for other personal expenditures. To cover up for the missing funds, Hodge permitted the bookkeeper to alter the Sheriff Department’s accounting records and to falsify reports and other required paperwork.
Prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in America. Few places have been hit harder than Kentucky, a state that has also been ravaged by addiction to crystal meth. In Whitley County, Kentucky — in the heart of Appalachia — matters were made worse when the man suspected of being at the center of the drug trade was the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Lawrence Hodge.
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