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Whitley County, Kentucky Reporters Bring Down Corrupt Sheriff

Journalists received death threats during investigation

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Adam Sulfridge was a young journalist, fresh-faced and still in college, when he got the scoop of a lifetime: the local sheriff was involved in some shady dealings.

Sulfridge was working for the Times-Tribune in his hometown of Whitley County, a small and poor community rife with meth and Oxycontin use. When Sheriff Lawrence Hodge was elected into his post in 2002, his main platform was cleaning up the image of the town and moving the drugs out; in fact, he was responsible for a huge meth raid which was nationally covered.

But for all the good he was doing, there certainly was a lot of talk about Hodge, rumors that he was corrupt and involved in shady dealings. The FBI tried several times to bust him on something, but he was so powerful in the community that many were afraid of the consequences if they cooperated with an investigation. No one would say a bad word against him out of fear.

Samantha Swindler, Adam Sulfridge’s editor at the newspaper, wasn’t from Kentucky but had experience in dealing with what she calls “the good ol’ boy system”: powerful men who use their position to get what they want while keeping up a facade of small-town goodness. She had a gut feeling that Hodge’s downfall could be in the details, so she began going through mounds of paperwork; namely, the department’s evidence logs.

What she found was that there were months when nothing was recorded, even though there were arrests for drug charges every day, which usually include a weapon or two. Her research, aided by Adam Sulfridge, turned up interesting evidence of several felony drug cases in which the charges were reduced mysteriously, and every case had one common denominator: Sheriff Hodge’s good friend, defense attorney Ron Reynolds.

During interviews with Hodge, the reporters got him lying on tape about the whereabouts of several guns that had supposedly been confiscated, but which were later found to have been sold for cash or drugs by Hodge himself, who had a serious drug problem. And as the investigation wore on and Hodge realized he was being shaken down, he got scared enough to send some goons around to Adam Sulfridge’s house to threaten him. He was also recorded by an undercover officer saying he planned to kill Sulfridge and that he had been by his house already. When Sulfridge–who was just a sophomore in college, remember–got wind of that news, he bought himself a gun.

“You know, you’re 20 years old, and you’re taking a shower one day and getting ready for class and you get a call from a federal agent because there’s a credible threat against your life. Everything about it is just so surreal. You know. You don’t– you don’t think a whole lot about it. Then later that night you start thinking, you’re like, “Geez, somebody wants to kill me. That’s a little odd.” And it’s the sheriff. The sheriff wants to kill you,” Adam said.

Because of Adam and Samantha’s tireless research and investigation, Hodge was sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison on charges of extortion, money laundering, and distributing drugs. Adam says although he was happy to have uncovered the sheriff for what he truly was, it isn’t what he wants his town to be known for.

“I hate to see it for my community. I hate to see that plastered all over the place. You know….Whitley County, synonymous now with a corrupt sheriff. I don’t like that…. I think the real story should be that a bunch of people here came together and, you know, cleaned it up.”

Whitley County, Kentucky Reporters Bring Down Corrupt Sheriff
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  • JP

    We need more journalists like these two. Kudos!

  • Wanda Jordan

    Wow! My hometown! It’s big news. So some diligent kids uncovered the bastards who are better than thou. How many addicts did he send up the river while he was cashing in? The low life sheriff foxes should be in with the secret service protecting the hen house in Washington. It was this crooked when my parents were running moon shine long ago. My parents gave the sheriff our proceeds just to stay out of trouble. The whole time the sheriff was patting them on the shoulder and saying, “Give me the money and I’ll keep the gov’t off your back.” Bastards. And the wives take the money as soon as the sheriff gets home from the office. Thanks kids. You did what we couldn’t. I’d send you flowers but “I don’t want to get involved.”

  • SB

    In case Ms Swindler and Mr. Sulfridge stumble upon this comment, kudos to you! I hope you both enjoy long and prosperous careers in your chosen profession. You’re a credit to journalists everywhere. Unfortunately in the world of media corporations and journalists your doggedness is not a universal trait. Frequently wrongdoing by those in power goes unreported by those who both know of the wrongdoing and have an ethical obligation to inform the public. As a citizen who is concerned with the negative turn that this country has taken I offer you a million thanks. Many of our nations problems are a direct result of lawless public servants who have blatantly failed to honor their oaths and fulfill their pledged duty to society. Keep on taking down the bad guys who think they’re above the law. And spread some of your chutzpah around, it would definitely be useful in a lot of places. Now I’ll take a moment to share something important with the public. The below message was previously posted elsewhere. However, it also pertains to public corruption so it is fitting that I share it here. The public should be aware of this as well (information was updated on 05/07/2012).

    —————————————————

    Next stop Gainesville, Fla. (i.e. “Gator Country”). “Why specifically?”, you ask.

    Because in Alachua County, within recent months, numerous and egregious violations of law have been committed that warrant multiple criminal prosecutions and other severe government sanctions. These crimes have had all types of deleterious effects including, but not limited to, once again placing the integrity of Florida’s election results (for 2012) in jeopardy. A few of the things that are central to this issue are:

    1
    David P. Kreider [Mr. Kreider, a proven criminal, is a corrupt Alachua County Court judge. This criminally-corrupt judge also happens to be both (a) one of the circuit's former prosecutors and (b) a former Division Chief for the State Attorney's Office.]

    2
    Robert Roundtree, Chief Judge for Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit (he recently replaced the embattled Martha Lott who resigned from her chief judge post subsequent to becoming embroiled in this scandal which has started to implode; her resignation was announced on 04/09/2012 and was reported to have gone into effect on 04/05/2012)

    3
    Spencer Mann, Chief Investigator for the State Attorney’s Office of Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit

    4
    William “Bill” Cervone, State Attorney for Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit

    5
    The conspiracy / scandal related to the “Gibson Case”

    6
    The two irrefutable reports and extensive corroborating evidence that is in the possession of agencies, including those within Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit (and the aforementioned Spencer Mann and Chief Judge’s office). The comprehensive reports and evidence span a total of more than 100 pages and in-depthly detail criminal activities carried out under the color of law by criminal/judge David P. Kreider and various other co-conspirators.

    http://www.complaints.com/2012/march/14/Corrupt_Judge_David_P._Kreider_now_taints_the_ele_264712.htm
    (updated 05/07/2012)

    This is the gateway to serious corruption and a major cover-up attempt.

  • Wells

    I live in a county in NC that is just like this and anyone that blows the whistle gets sent out of town. We have everything from payouts on various issues to elementary schools built with fake fire protection systems while everyone pockets the money. It is a shame, but this is how most municipal governments are run.Good for these two to stay the course. Most people can’t.