Williamsburg attorney sentenced to 27 months in federal prison

LONDON — A longtime Williamsburg lawyer who took part in a scheme to extort money from accused drug dealers has been sentenced to 27 months in federal prison.

Ronnie Wayne Reynolds, 54, also must pay the federal government $199,500, the amount he acknowledged getting from the illegal activity.

Reynolds' attorney, Jerry J. Cox, asked the judge to place Reynolds on probation or home detention, noting his positive record in the community and that he has cooperated with investigators.

Reynolds gave authorities information on drugs and public corruption in Whitley and McCreary counties, placing him and his family at risk, according to a court motion.

However, U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove said prison time was necessary to underscore the seriousness of a crime that fed corruption.

"In a moment of personal weakness, perhaps motivated by greed, you chose a path that was a profound mistake," Van Tatenhove told Reynolds.

The case involving Reynolds was tied up in a web of drugs and corruption.

For instance, court records say it was related to a case against Brad Nighbert, a former Williamsburg police officer who abused and sold drugs — and broke into a pharmacy to get drugs — while he was on the force.

Nighbert has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Reynolds' case was related to an investigation of Lawrence Hodge, who was sheriff of Whitley County from early 2003 through the end of 2010.

Hodge was accused of committing a laundry list of crimes while in office, including using drugs, taking payoffs from drug dealers and stealing more than $300,000.

He pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to commit extortion, conspiracy to distribute drugs and conspiracy to launder money.

Hodge has not been formally sentenced but has started serving a prison term of 15 years and six months.

Reynolds admitted he took part in a scheme in which Hodge recommended that accused drug dealers hire Reynolds to defend them, with the understanding that if they did, the sheriff would agree to a reduction in the charges.

Reynolds then kicked back part of his fee to Hodge.

Reynolds charged three accused drug dealers a total of $257,000 from 2004 to 2007 and gave $57,000 of that to Hodge, court records show.

Reynolds also encouraged the defendants to make more than $55,000 in donations to Hodge's office, which went into accounts from which Hodge stole money.

Reynolds said in court Tuesday that he wasn't comfortable when Hodge approached him about getting money from the cases involving the drug dealers but went along against his better judgment.

"I should have just ran him out of the house and let the consequences fall where they may," Reynolds said.

His attorney, Cox, said Reynolds was intimidated and threatened by the corrupt sheriff.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Samuel Dotson, said Reynolds was being shaken down by Hodge to some extent.

However, their scheme was very troubling because it involved circumventing the justice system, Dotson said.

Reynolds faced a sentence of 31 to 41 months under advisory guidelines.

Van Tatenhove, however, said a lower sentence was justified.

The judge cited factors such as Reynolds' work to overcome a difficult childhood as the son of an alcoholic, abusive bootlegger — and to deal with his own addictions — to become a successful attorney who did good work in the community.

Reynolds must report to prison by Aug. 30.

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