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RI Senate Leader arrested on DUI charge

By David Klepper
Associated Press / March 28, 2012
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Rhode Island Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio was arrested early Wednesday in Barrington for suspicion of driving under the influence, police said.

The North Providence Democrat exhibited bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and difficulty with his balance after his vehicle was stopped just after midnight Wednesday, according to the Barrington Police Department report.

Ruggerio, 63, was charged with driving under the influence and refusal to submit to a test of his blood-alcohol level. He was released Wednesday morning and given an April 4 court date.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions last evening and regret how this may impact my family, my constituents, my colleagues and the Senate," Ruggerio said in a statement sent to reporters by a spokesman for the Senate.

Ruggerio is the fifth Rhode Island lawmaker to face criminal charges in the past year. As the second-ranking senator, he's one of the most powerful legislators in the Statehouse. According to his legislative biography he is employed as an administrator for the New England Laborers Labor Management Coop Trust and was elected to the Senate in 1984 after serving three years in the Rhode Island House.

Ruggerio's arrest was first reported by WPRO-AM.

According to police, Ruggerio was stopped after a 911 caller reported an erratic motorist. Police said Ruggerio swayed from side to side and had difficulty performing field sobriety tests.

Ruggerio reportedly told police that he had been drinking earlier in the night and was "following a friend to a woman's house" after attending a benefit in Providence.

Ruggerio was placed in handcuffs and transported to the police station. In the report, the responding officer described Ruggerio as "polite, cooperative and apologetic."

State Sen. Frank Ciccone was with Ruggerio -- but in another vehicle -- when Ruggerio was stopped by police. Ciccone, D-Providence, said he was advised by Ruggerio's attorney not to discuss the incident.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Democrat, released a statement expressing support for Ruggerio, saying she is "confident that this issue will not distract him from his duties and that he will continue to be an effective leader in the state senate."

Republican Sen. David Bates, who represents Barrington, called Ruggerio a good leader. He said he's concerned any time a lawmaker is charged with a crime.

"One is too many," he said. "It's certainly been a rash lately."

Four other lawmakers have faced criminal charges in the past twelve months.

Rep. Robert Watson, R-East Greenwich, was charged with marijuana possession and DUI in April in Connecticut, and arrested again in Rhode Island in January for marijuana possession. The former House Minority Leader pleaded not guilty to charges from the first incident, and pleaded no-contest to the more recent charge.

Police arrested Rep. Dan Gordon, R-Portsmouth, in September after learning that he faced charges in Massachusetts of failing to stop for police and driving with a suspended license stemming from a 2008 traffic stop. Gordon agreed to pay $1,000 to resolve the evasion charge and received probation for other traffic charges.

Also in September, Rep. Leo Medina, D-Providence, was accused of pocketing proceeds from a life insurance policy on a friend's dead daughter. Medina pleaded not guilty last week and said the case is a "big misunderstanding."

In January, prosecutors dismissed a sexual assault case against Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence, after the alleged victim died of medical causes. He had pleaded not guilty.

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