A woman who had an affair with Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Lonnie Greco filed a lawsuit in federal court this week, claiming the sheriff orchestrated her arrest on doctor-shopping charges last year, forced her to resign from her job at the Sheriff’s Office and had her committed to a psychiatric hospital after she ended their 16-month romance.
The sheriff’s former mistress, Carol E. Ruggles, claims Greco hired her as a grant director in 2012 “in order to keep a closer eye on her” but then forced her out of the job and reported her to State Police after she broke off their relationship a year later.
“The town is a veritable rumor mill, and this is an opportunity to go public with what has happened to her,” said Ruggles’ attorney, Ronald Wilson. “The whole thing was devastating. She’s constantly thinking about what sort of retaliatory action will be taken against her next.”
Greco’s office issued a forceful denial of the allegations Tuesday evening, saying Greco would “aggressively defend” himself against the lawsuit and asserting that Ruggles’ resignation had “nothing to do with the relationship she had with the sheriff.”
“At no time during this consensual relationship did the sheriff use the relationship as an advantage or leverage against Carol Ruggles,” Terry Sercovich, a Sheriff’s Office attorney, said in a statement.
Greco was elected in November 2011 to replace Jiff Hingle, the former Plaquemines Parish sheriff who is serving a federal prison sentence for accepting bribes.
Greco apologized to constituents last year and acknowledged having an affair with one of his employees. “I made a mistake as a man as far as violating the trust of my wife,” he told the Plaquemines Gazette, which first reported the infidelity.
Ruggles’ 12-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says Greco began flirting with Ruggles even before her husband died in October 2011. After her husband’s death, as Ruggles was in grief counseling, the sheriff’s advances “became more intense, more persistent,” the lawsuit claims. She succumbed to his “sexual overtures” during a motorcycle trip she took with him to Panama City, Fla., it says.
“During the course of the relationship,” the lawsuit alleges, “they engaged in sexual intercourse on numerous occasions, in numerous venues — motels, the sheriff department trailer and warehouse.”
Greco exchanged thousands of text messages with Ruggles, the lawsuit says, including some that were sexually explicit and depicted the sheriff in “various stages of undress.”
“In one video,” the lawsuit claims, “defendant Greco exposed his private parts. In a different text message, he asked her to video a sexual encounter and forward it to him.”
While Greco’s statement did not address the details of the affair, it disputed Ruggles’ account of her arrest.
Ruggles ended the relationship in August, the lawsuit says. She visited the sheriff’s home and told him “it was over, that she was ready to move on,” the suit says, adding that she offered to stay on to train her successor at the Sheriff’s Office.
The next day, according to the lawsuit, Ruggles was called into a meeting in Greco’s office and grilled by two deputy chiefs, a detective and a Sheriff’s Office lawyer who accused her of “doctor shopping,” a practice in which drug users visit various physicians in an attempt to collect multiple prescriptions for medication. Ruggles claims she was given a choice between resigning or being arrested.
“Under duress, and believing that the forced resignation would prevent her unlawful arrest, she executed it,” the lawsuit says.
Sercovich, in his statement, said the doctor-shopping investigation began several weeks before Ruggles says she ended the affair. He said Ruggles took her niece to see detectives in late July after the niece claimed she had been sexually molested by a family member.
“During the investigation,” Sercovich said, “allegations were asserted against Carol Ruggles concerning illegal abuse of prescription drugs. The allegations were confirmed and the sheriff was notified.”
Sercovich said Ruggles was confronted with the allegations on Aug. 25 — the same day Ruggles claims to have ended the relationship. “She denied the allegation and, based on her denial, a search warrant was executed concerning her phone,” Sercovich said.
State Police took over the doctor-shopping investigation from the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office in September, records show, and they arrested Ruggles at her Belle Chasse home on Oct. 15 on 28 counts.
Ruggles’ suit claims the arrest was made at Greco’s request.
A State Police spokeswoman confirmed the Sheriff’s Office had referred the investigation to State Police but could not immediately say whether Greco personally requested the agency’s assistance.
In November, Ruggles called a member of her support group whom she claims the sheriff had “prohibited” from visiting her. Two law enforcement officers then arrived at her home and told her “to go with them to the hospital because she was suicidal,” the lawsuit says.
“They informed her that she had no choice, that they would take her by force if she did not go voluntarily,” the lawsuit says. “Facing the prospects of a forcible removal from her home, she unwillingly went with them.”
The lawsuit says Ruggles was taken to Meadowcrest Hospital, where she was drug-tested, and then was admitted to Greenbrier Behavioral Health Hospital in Covington, a psychiatric facility, where she remained for several days. She was diagnosed with depression but was not found to be suicidal, according to the lawsuit. Sercovich’s statement did not address Ruggles’ commitment.
The lawsuit claims the state Attorney General’s Office refused the criminal charges against Ruggles, “effectively thwarting” Greco’s wishes. But Laura Gerdes Colligan, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, said the office did not reject the charges, adding that Ruggles was placed in a pre-trial diversion program that included a drug education and prevention course and community service.
“She completed the conditions of the diversion program and, based on her successful completion of the diversion process, the charges were refused,” Sercovich said. “The charges were not refused due to a lack of merit.”