Federal investigators are now saying through court documents that disgraced former Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge admitted to planning the Dec. 2009 burglary of his own office, and has not yet paid a cent of the money he stole from county tax accounts despite spending roughly $600 a month on things like soda and potato chips through his prison commissary account.
The revelations are the latest revealed in an affidavit signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram on Sept. 15 filed in an effort to search Hodge’s mother’s home in an effort to find money that may have been taken from county accounts during his term as Sheriff. The affidavit was uncovered as part of a News Journal investigation into the issue.
Hodge entered a guilty plea in May to charges of extortion, conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In exchange for his plea, he received a 15.5-year prison term. He was also ordered to surrender $50,000 to federal authorities and must make restitution in the amount of $64,897 to Whitley County.
Hodge was never formally charged by federal authorities, but instead had been working a deal with prosecutors in advance of an expected indictment.
The most recent affidavit was authored by Todd E. Tremaine, a Special Agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He was the principal investigator in corruption cases against Hodge and his former bookkeeper Vicki Paul.
By piecing together admissions by Paul and Hodge, along with reports from state auditors, investigators estimate $158,017 was stolen from tax fee accounts and a drug and alcohol fund from 2005-2007. More recent audits have bumped the total deficit in the accounts to more than $240,000. A search of Hodge’s home and office on Nov. 8, 2010 turned up no cash.
According to the affidavit, on Sept. 14 of this year, Tremaine spoke to an unnamed informant who was, apparently, a cellmate with Hodge for about a week while he was incarcerated in the Grayson County Detention Center earlier this year. The informant told authorities Hodge was spending large amounts of money with the jail commissary, roughly $300 to $400. He said Hodge had told him he had money hidden in his mother’s safe.
"The CW said Hodge was trying to figure out if he had enough money in the safe to support him in jail (commissary expenses) at the same or similar rate of spending for the next 15.5 years. The CW said Hodge estimated that he had enough money in the safe to do so."
The informant told Tremaine that he once overheard Hodge ask one of his sons on the phone if he had sent a money order to the jail for his commissary account.
The affidavit goes on to say that Hodge told Tremaine, during interviews, that he does not have any significant amount of money stored in any location.
Investigators looked into the issue further and found that Hodge was actually spending around $600 a month out of his commissary account at the Grayson County Detention Center and that the money was being deposited through money orders sent by his mother, Ruth Hodge, his brother, James Hodge, his son, Basil R. Hodge and/or Taylor Landscaping. Taylor landscaping is owned by a known friend and associate of Hodge, Larry Taylor.
Despite his opulent spending through his commissary account, Hodge has yet to pay any of the restitution he was ordered to make, according to the affidavit.
A search warrant was granted under the assumption that some of the money stolen from Sheriff’s Dept. accounts may be hidden in Ruth Hodge’s home, but federal agents failed to find any money or records regarding criminal activity at the residence.
Two outbuildings on her property were also searched to no avail.
Also contained in the affidavit are the first alleged admissions by Hodge that he arranged the Dec. 2009 burglary of his own office in the Whitley County Courthouse in an effort to cover his misdeeds. Seventy-eight firearms and numerous narcotics were unaccounted for following the "break in," – evidence that was seized by deputies during Hodge’s eight-year tenure as Sheriff.
Tremaine contends Hodge told him that he asked Doyle "Stanboy" Fritts to do the burglary. Fritts then got another man, Pete Lawson, to actually commit the burglary.
Fritts is currently incarcerated awaiting trial on federal charges of trafficking in Oxycodone, illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He is slated to go to trial in early January.
Lawson has numerous prior felony convictions.
Local law enforcement spent weeks trying to track down the 78 firearms either taken or simply missing from Hodge’s office following the burglary.
Some were recovered.
According to the affidavit, Hodge has informed investigators that Taylor "ultimately received the firearms that were allegedly stolen from the Whitley SO in December of 2009."
Taylor is a former chief deputy at the Whitley County Jail where he worked for his father, Jerry Taylor, who was the former Jailer.
State charges are still pending against Hodge despite his deal with federal authorities. He was indicted by a Whitley County Grand Jury last November on 21 felony counts – 18 for violations of public trust and three for tampering with physical evidence.
He is due to make an appearance on the charges in Whitley Circuit Court on Dec. 12.