A prolific, drug-resistant Florida prosecutor tried to offer cops his business card to avoid being arrested for drunk driving after crashing into an SUV on July 4.
Joseph Ruddy, 59, a federal prosecutor, was arrested by police outside his home in Tampa. When arrested, he was too drunk to stand up straight and had his Justice Department business card in his hand.
When officers arrived at Ruddy’s home in suburban Temple Terrace, they found him leaning over his pickup truck, holding his keys and using the vehicle for support, the police report states.
Officers noted that he had urinated on himself, was unable to walk without assistance and failed a field sobriety test.
Ruddy was charged with driving under the influence with property damage. His blood alcohol level was 0.17%, twice the legal limit. He now faces up to a year in prison.
Although he was indicted, Ruddy remained on the job for two months, representing the United States in court as recently as last week to score another victory for the sprawling task force he helped create there. twenty years ago, targeting cocaine trafficking at sea.
He is credited with designing Operation Panama Express (PANEX), a task force that contributed to more than 90 percent of the U.S. Coast Guard’s at-sea drug interdictions. The average sentence given to smugglers arrested at sea and prosecuted in Tampa, where Ruddy worked, was longer than in any other court in the country.
The prosecutor was captured outside his home in Tampa, Florida, with his Justice Department business card in hand as he leaned over his pickup truck.
The lawyer’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit and he could barely stand up straight. He was also found urinating on himself after hitting a vehicle and leaving the scene.
Joseph Ruddy, 59, a prolific federal prosecutor, was charged with driving under the influence with property damage after he was captured handing his business card to cops following a July 4 drunken drive.
Ruddy is accused of sideswiping an SUV whose driver was waiting to turn at a red light, clipping a side mirror and tearing off another piece of the vehicle that was stuck in the fender of Ruddy’s pickup truck.
“He never even braked,” a witness told police. “He just kept going and swerved all over the road. I’m like, “No, he’s going to hurt someone.” So I just followed him until I got the tag number and then called him and reported it.
In body camera footage of the arrest, Tampa Police Patrolman Taylor Grant can be heard telling him, “I understand we could have a better night.”
Before looking at the business card in Ruddy’s hand, the officer says, “What are you trying to give me?” You realize when they take the footage off my body-worn camera and they see this, it’s going to go really bad.
The officer then asks him: “Why didn’t you stop?”
“I didn’t realize it was that bad,” Ruddy said in a fuzzy response.
“You hit a vehicle and you ran,” the officer explained. “You ran because you were drunk. You probably didn’t realize you hit the vehicle.
Ruddy had been representing the United States in court for two months after the hit-and-run. But he was removed from three cases and removed from his supervisory duties a day later. The Associated Press » asked the Justice Department about Ruddy’s case.
He is expected to appear in court for his case on September 27.
Ruddy arrived at the United States Courthouse on Friday, September 1st. He remained on the job for two months after the hit-and-run.
Ruddy was removed from three cases and removed from supervisory duties a day after The Associated Press asked the Justice Department about Ruddy’s case.
On Wednesday, a day after the AP asked the Justice Department about Ruddy’s status, the veteran prosecutor was removed from three pending criminal cases.
A Justice Department spokesperson would not say whether he had been suspended, but said Ruddy, although still employed, had been removed from his supervisory role in the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa. The matter was also referred to the Office of Inspector General.
Such an inspector general investigation would likely focus on whether Ruddy was trying to use his public office for personal gain, said Kathleen Clark, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. who viewed the images.
“It’s hard to see what this could be other than an attempt to unduly influence the officer to go easy on him,” Clark said. “What could his purpose be in handing over his business card from the U.S. Attorney’s Office?” »
Ruddy designed Operation Panama Express (PANEX), a task force contributing to more than 90 percent of the U.S. Coast Guard’s at-sea drug interdictions. The average sentence given to smugglers arrested at sea and prosecuted in Tampa, where Ruddy worked, was longer than in any other court in the country.
Ruddy is known in law enforcement circles as one of the architects of Operation Panama Express, or PANEX – a task force launched in 2000 to target cocaine trafficking at sea, combining the resources of the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Historically, intelligence generated by PANEX contributes to more than 90% of the U.S. Coast Guard’s at-sea drug interdictions. Between 2018 and 2022, the Coast Guard removed or destroyed 888 tons of cocaine worth an estimated $26 billion and arrested 2,776 suspected smugglers, a senior Coast Guard official said in congressional testimony in March. The bulk of these cases were handled by Ruddy and his colleagues in Tampa, where PANEX is headquartered.
A former Ironman triathlete, Ruddy enjoys a reputation among lawyers for his hard work and tenacity in the courtroom. Among his most important cases were some of the first extraditions from Colombia of the main smugglers of the feared Cali Cartel.
But the majority of cases handled from his office mainly involve poor fishermen from Central and South America, who make up the lowest echelons of the drug trade. Often, the drugs are not even destined for U.S. shores, and the constitutional guarantees of due process that normally apply in criminal cases in the United States are only vaguely respected.
“Ruddy is at the heart of a costly and aggressive prosecutor-led network that removes hundreds of small-time cocaine traffickers from the oceans and incarcerates them in the United States each year,” said Ohio State University geographer Kendra McSweeney. who is part of a team studying maritime interdiction policies.
Research conducted by Ohio State’s Interdiction Lab found that between 2014 and 2020, the median sentence for smugglers arrested at sea and prosecuted in Tampa was 10 years – longer than any other court in the country and compared to seven years and six months in Miami, which handles the second highest number of such cases.
Last Friday, nearly two months after his arrest, Ruddy was in court to ratify a plea deal in the case of a Brazilian man, Flavio Fontes Pereira, who in February was found by the U.S. Coast Guard with over 3.3 tons of cocaine aboard a sailboat off the coast of Guinea, West Africa.
After two weeks aboard the U.S. Coast Guard ship, Pereira first appeared in a Tampa court in March, charged under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act, which gives the United States unique arrest powers anywhere on the high seas whenever they determine that a vessel is ‘without nationality.’