Attorney says he, ex-sheriff extorted money from defendants

Says he conspired with ex-Whitley sheriff

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 17, 2011 

A Williamsburg defense attorney has admitted conspiring with a former Whitley County sheriff to extort money from people facing criminal charges.

Ronnie Wayne Reynolds, 54, pleaded guilty in federal court in Lexington on Wednesday.

According to court documents, Reynolds took part in the scheme with Lawrence Hodge, who served two terms as Whitley County sheriff.

Hodge lost re-election in the May 2010 primary and left office at the end of the year.

Hodge and Reynolds had a deal in which the sheriff referred people facing criminal charges to Reynolds for representation, and Reynolds gave Hodge a piece of the fee he charged the people, according to a court document.

The people who hired Reynolds understood the charges against them would be reduced or that they wouldn't face any jail time if they hired Reynolds, according to the plea agreement in the case.

Hodge consented to having the charges against the people reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, Reynolds' plea document said.

The cases involved drug charges, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey's office.

Reynolds acknowledged taking part in that scheme at least three times from 2004 to 2007, charging the three people a total of $257,000 to represent them in state court.

Reynolds said he gave Hodge $57,500 of that.

Reynolds also encouraged the defendants to make donations or forfeiture payments to Hodge's office.

The three gave a total of more than $55,000 to Hodge's office, according to Reynolds' plea deal.

Reynolds has been in private practice in Williamsburg since 1984 and ran unsuccessfully for local office, including commonwealth's attorney. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Reynolds pleaded guilty at the same time the charge against him was filed by way of a document called an information — a process that can indicate someone is cooperating with authorities.

Reynolds also agreed to pay the government $199,500. That is the amount of money he acknowledged receiving because of illegal activity.

The plea was the latest bad news involving Hodge.

An alleged drug dealer said recently he supplied pain pills to Hodge while he was still in office, and that Hodge traded him a shotgun for three pills just before leaving office.

Hodge also was charged last year with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his office.

Hodge has pleaded not guilty in that case, and denied any involvement in drugs. Hodge has not been charged with any federal offenses, but is under investigation.

The case involving Reynolds was investigated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Internal Revenue Service, according to a news release.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove released Reynolds on bond and scheduled his sentencing hearing for June 29.

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