Corrupt Kentucky sheriff brought down by reporters

When two small-town newspaper reporters in Kentucky began investigating the corrupt local sheriff, they not only got headline stories. They also got death threats.

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[Lawrence Hodge: When I knocked on the door the smell was already knocking me down. We're glad to shut it down. It put a dent in our drug problem here.]

But early in his tenure there were rumors, talk around the county the sheriff had gone bad.

Todd Tremaine: From about 2004, he just went downhill and was corrupt. Involved with drugs dealers, taking payoffs, extorting money from defendants.

Todd Tremaine, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, says the FBI and State Police tried building a case against Sheriff Hodge, but couldn't penetrate his inner circle of drug dealers, crooked politicians and police officers.

Todd Tremaine: He was very insulated.

Byron Pitts: What do you mean "insulated?"

Todd Tremaine: There was a lot of fear of what Lawrence might do if they cooperated with the federal agents or state police.

Byron Pitts: He was untouchable?

Todd Tremaine: Yes.

Editor Samantha Swindler had heard similar stories, and suspected Sheriff Hodge might have a weakness: a paper trail. So she checked the department's evidence log.

Samantha Swindler: There were months when nothing was checked in. I knew that this wasn't right, because we had arrests every day in this area, particularly related to drugs. And when it's related to drugs you know there's probably a gun. And it wasn't there.

But to mount a serious investigation of the sheriff, Samantha needed help.

Byron Pitts: Why would you hire a 20-year-old? His only journalism experience is working on his high school newspaper?

Samantha Swindler: Well, when you say it like that...

Byron Pitts: Well, it's true.

Samantha Swindler: Well he was smart and he knew about the community and he cared about local government.

Adam Sulfridge: My aunt overdosed. And the first question I had was, "I wonder if she got her drugs from somebody that the sheriff was, you know, protecting.

Adam went to work, combing through years of case files. He noted arrests where drugs and weapons were seized by the sheriff's department and should have been logged. It was tedious and time-consuming.

Adam Sulfridge: At that point I was working up to like 70 hours a week. It was-- it was insane and it wasn't healthy. But I was, you know, just driven. I knew I was onto something and I couldn't stop.

What he was onto was a series of felony cases -- involving guns and drugs -- in which deals were cut and sentences mysteriously reduced. What's more, the defense attorney in each case was Sheriff Hodge's close friend, Ron Reynolds.

One case involved this man, Rick Benson, a retired social worker. In May 2004, Sheriff Hodge and his men raided Benson's house. In addition to drugs they found 17 guns. Benson had a previous felony conviction on drug and weapons charges, so was forbidden to own firearms.