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Former Sheriff Gets 17 Years For Drug Smuggling

April 17, 1993 GMT

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) _ A judge sentenced a former sheriff to 17 years in prison Friday for allowing smugglers to bring nearly nine tons of cocaine through his rural county.

Earl Sermon Dyess Jr., whose family ran the sheriff’s office for nearly three decades, pleaded guilty Feb. 8 to a four-count conspiracy and cocaine smuggling indictment. He was arrested at home Jan. 4 on his last day as sheriff of Hendry County.

″I’m ashamed,″ Dyess said through tears at the sentencing. ″I’m ashamed of what I’ve done to the citizens of Hendry County, and I’ve let my family down.″

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His attorney, Ralph Elver, told the court that Dyess had been a cocaine addict, but shook the habit. Under the sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Lee P. Gagliardi, Dyess won’t be eligible for parole.

Prosecutors said Dyess received about $250,000 between 1980 and 1988 for allowing 17,930 pounds of cocaine to be flown or driven through county on the southwest shore of Lake Okeechobee.

Dyess provided protection and surveillance for Colombian drug importers and in some cases escorted cocaine-carrying vehicles to the county line, prosecutors said.

Dyess, 51, was appointed sheriff in 1980 after his father was stabbed to death by a teen-age vandal. He was elected president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association in 1991, and was a member of the Governor’s Drug Policy Task Force. He lost a run for re-election last year by 266 votes.