Patrick Sullivan was sentenced two years after pleading guilty to plying young men with methamphetamine in exchange for sexual favors. The 71-year-old was once named the nation's top sheriff and won praise for his leadership of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department in the Denver suburbs.
"I have a drug problem, and I have had a drug problem for some time," Sullivan said in court on Thursday, apologizing before Judge William Sylvester issued his sentence. "I have only myself to blame."
Sullivan was arrested in December 2011 after authorities arranged a sting that revealed he was trading methamphetamine for sex. Months earlier, a 911 caller reported Sullivan was at his house trying to get three recovering addicts back on drugs.
He later pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine and solicitation of a prostitute. Sylvester sentenced him to 30 days in jail and two years' probation.
The courtroom erupted in applause on Thursday as deputies handcuffed Sullivan and took him into custody, though some had hoped for a harsher sentence.
Sullivan told the judge he was benefiting from an in-patient drug treatment program he recently enrolled in after missing or failing dozens of drug tests.
But his probation officer, Hallie Miller, said his purported efforts to reform were a front, and he continued to lie and make excuses for his risky behavior. He blamed positive meth tests on everyone from a doctor who prescribed him pills to a neighbor who he said drugged him at a barbecue, Miller said.
In January, Sullivan left the state without permission. In May, he tested positive again for meth.
"He sees himself as above the law," Miller said.
Before his arrest, Sullivan was known as an anti-drug crusader with a record so distinguished the county named its jail after him. The National Sheriffs' Association tapped him as its "top sheriff" in 2001, and he continued to command respect even after he resigned the following year to oversee security for a school district.
In 1989, Sullivan was hailed as a hero. During a gunman's rampage, he rescued two deputies after crashing his truck through a fence and protected them while they were loaded into the vehicle.
But his court case revealed a darker picture. He would develop relationships with vulnerable young men, help them find jobs and get out of jail, and then provide them the drug.
Unlike other addicts, Sullivan was "on the forefront in the 1990s as one of the most vocal critics of the meth epidemic," said First Assistant Attorney General Robert Shapiro. "He of all people, the first time he tried it, knew it was nothing more than a poison. ... Mr. Sullivan chose this substance for no good reason whatsoever."
His attorney, Kevin McGreevy, argued he had been unfairly scrutinized by probation officers because of his position.
Some who had worked with him hoped that probation would let him redeem his tarnished image.
"I'm not shocked anymore," former Boulder County Sheriff George Epp said Wednesday. "What it tells me is a switch flipped somehow and it hasn't flipped back."