Whitley County, Kentucky Reporters Bring Down Corrupt Sheriff

    May 7, 2012
    Amanda Crum

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.”