A former eastern Kentucky sheriff on Thursday pleaded guilty to using his office to take kickbacks, distribute drugs and pay for personal expenses.
As part of a plea agreement, Basil Lawrence Hodge, 51, who had been the sheriff in Whitley County, accepted a 15 1/2-year federal prison sentence during a one-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in London.
Hodge must also pay $50,000 to the federal government and an unspecified amount in restitution. He was taken immediately into custody, pending sentencing on Aug. 25.
The charges came from multiple investigations in Whitley County that have resulted in at least four related guilty pleas, including one involving Williamsburg attorney Ronnie Wayne Reynolds.
Hodge, dressed in a blue shirt and faded jeans with a hole in the seat, declined to speak as he entered the courthouse.
But, under questioning from U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, Hodge acknowledged using his office to take kickbacks from Reynolds, shake down an oxycodone dealer for drugs and steal checks from the sheriff's office.
"I'd refer people to Ron Reynolds and he'd give me money," Hodge said.
Hodge told Van Tatenhove how he would approach a drug dealer and tell him "I knew what he was doing and he'd give me drugs."
Hodge did not say how many checks he took from the sheriff's office, telling the judge he "just cashed them."
Reynolds pleaded guilty in March to extortion. In his plea agreement, Reynolds acknowledged paying Hodge for referrals with the promise that those clients would face reduced or no charges in exchange for payment.
Reynolds admitted to making multiple payments to Hodge between June 2004 and July 2007 in amounts from $2,500 to $50,000. Reynolds has agreed to forfeit $199,000. He is set for sentencing on June 29.
The other cases that came from the investigation involve multiple people charged with distributing oxycodone in Whitley County, a rural area of about 38,000 people on the Kentucky-Tennessee line.
As prosecutors ticked off the charges against Hodge in court, Van Tatenhove asked the former two-term sheriff: "Do you think the government could have proven the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt?"
"Yes, sir," Hodge answered three times.
Speaking after the hearing, Hodge's attorney, Brent Caldwell of Lexington, said his client wanted to bring the long-running investigation to an end.
"This was not a quick decision," Caldwell said.
Caldwell and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman each declined to say whether Hodge would cooperate with federal prosecutors in any other cases.
A state grand jury indicted Hodge late last year on 18 counts of abuse of public trust and three counts of tampering with evidence related to allegations of missing funds and seized weapons.
Hodge's tenure as sheriff was plagued with problems. State auditors repeatedly found shortages in the office's funds and concluded that Hodge allowed many taxpayers to pay less than they owed.
After two terms in office, Hodge last May lost re-election in the rural county of about 38,000 people on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line.
The state auditor's office also referred Hodge to the Federal Bureau of Investigation after finding a shortage of at least $216,000 in the sheriff's office.
Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere can be reached at http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP