Whitley County, Kentucky is a better place thanks to two young journalists at the Times-Tribune. Adam Sulfridge and Samantha Swindler dove deep into the shady dealings of county sheriff Lawrence Hodge and exposed a massive drug trade running through the small Kentucky town.
But it wasn’t easy.
Sulfridge, who was just 20-years-old and still in school when he took on the assignment, received multiple death threats for poking around in the Sheriff’s business.
“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.”
Swindler, his boss and managing editor of the local paper, said that they both bought guns after the initial death threats were made.
“We were reporting on people involved in the drug trade. And people who were all hopped up on oxys, I don’t know what they’re going to do. I thought if something happened I’d go down with a fight.”
CBS reports that Whitley County, Kentucky, has a population of about 35,000 people. The small town is beautiful, but poor, and drug addiction is rampant. Streets are lined with red signs that identify homes that were once used as meth labs, but recently the drug of choice has been Oxycodone and other prescription pills. I-75, which runs through Whitley County, is known as “the pill pipeline.”
Sheriff Hodge was elected to his post in 2002 and initially made a name for himself by shutting down a major meth lab. A few years later, however, rumors started to circulate that Hodge had started making money off of the county’s drug problem.
WebPro News reports that Swindler, a 27-year-old from New Orleans, had experience in dealing with the “good ol’ boy” system of law and had a feeling that Hodge was using his position for nefarious purposes.
Swindler and Sulfridge started digging around in County records and found that several things were out of place. There were days where nothing was recorded (despite the fact that drug arrests were made every day), they found felony charges that were mysteriously dropped or reduced, and several confiscated guns had somehow been misplaced.
CBS reports that due to Sulfridge and Swindler’s reporting Sheriff Hodge was voted out of office in 2010, and later, was indicted by a state grand jury. Hodge, knowing the case was too strong against him, pleaded guilty to extortion, distributing drugs and money laundering and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
Here’s a video from “60 Minutes” about Whitley County, Kentucky reporters Adam Sulfridge and Samantha Swindler.