Accused dealer says Whitley sheriff traded police shotgun for three pain pills

Ex-Whitley official denies allegations he bought, traded weapon for pain pills

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 10, 2011 

Former Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge

An alleged drug dealer has told federal authorities he began supplying pain pills to then-Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge about December 2009, when Hodge had a year left on his term, according to a sworn statement filed in federal court.

The accused dealer, James "Jeremy" Meradith, also said Hodge traded him a police shotgun for three 30-milligram oxydocone pills in December 2010, shortly before leaving office, according to the affidavit by Todd E. Tremaine, a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Hodge, however, said in a telephone interview he doesn't know Meradith, had never gotten pills from him and does not abuse drugs.

"I don't fool with no drugs at all," he told the Herald-Leader.

Meradith also said he sold Denny Shelley, a former Williamsburg police chief, several OxyContin pain pills a day over a period of eight months beginning in spring 2010.

Shelley worked as a narcotics detective for Hodge during part of 2010. He could not be reached Wednesday.

Tremaine swore out the affidavit in seeking criminal charges against several Whitley County residents.

In that case, Charles F. Fritts Jr.; his daughter, Nikita Nichole Evans; and his brother Doyle Stanford "Stan-boy" Fritts, have been charged with drug trafficking. They were arrested Tuesday.

Federal authorities have filed detainers in the case on Meradith and Jason Kersey, who are in jail on other charges. A sixth person, Jerry Lee Fritts, is allegedly a fugitive.

Jerry Lee Fritts is a brother of Charles and Stan-boy Fritts. Meradith is Nikita Evans' boyfriend.

Hodge, who lost his re-election bid in the 2010 primary, has not been charged in that case.

Hodge began getting pills from Meradith long before leaving office, the suspected drug dealer told Tremaine.

Meradith said Hodge could get Lorcet pain pills but liked oxycodone better, so he would trade with Meradith or his "money man" for the pills he wanted. The "money man," who was not identified, dealt with Hodge more than he did, Meradith said.

Two other informants said they saw Hodge at Charles Fritts' home last fall, while Hodge was still in office, and one said Fritts told him he sold pills to Hodge, according to the affidavit.

One of the informants said he saw Hodge take part in what appeared to be a drug transaction at Fritts' home in January, then tell Fritts to "sell the rest of the pain pills," according to Tremaine's statement.

The informant also said Hodge told him he had pills for sale, according to the sworn statement.

Meradith said he sold drugs to Hodge after Hodge left office, leaving five pills in the former sheriff's mailbox in February and picking up money Hodge had left in a trash can, according to the agent's statement.

Hodge denied that deal happened. He also said he knows Charles Fritts and considers him a good person, but said he had not taken part in any illegal drug transactions at Fritts' house or elsewhere.

One informant said he was told two alleged drug dealers helped Hodge get rid of guns that were missing from the sheriff's office, according to Tremaine's statement.

Hodge reported there was a break-in at his office in December 2009 and guns were missing, but questions have been raised about whether the burglary was real.

A local grand jury indicted Hodge last November on charges that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money during his two terms in office.

The indictment also alleged Hodge sold or gave away guns that had been seized in investigations.

Hodge has pleaded not guilty.

Hodge said Wednesday he has not taken another job since stepping down as sheriff.

"I'm just sitting here keeping my mouth shut, don't bother nobody," he said.

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