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Read Their Slips: 10 Tripped Up Politicians

Politicians—drug prohibitionists included—make many moves that leave us wondering if they were under the influence of something. Frequently, they're unfortunate enough to provide hard evidence.

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has recently found himself struggling to shake off reports that he featured in a home video smoking from a crack pipe, but he’s far from alone. From the rural South to major US cities and beyond, countless lawmakers—even those who have happily backed draconian drug policies—have landed in legal and political trouble for drug-related reasons. Here are 10 varied and mostly recent examples.

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  • Willie Gandara Jr., Texas County Commisioner

    Just months after Gandara declared that drug legalization was bad for America, a possible ulterior motive emerged: profit. He was arrested in February 2012 on federal drug trafficking charges. DEA spokesman Diana Apodaca confirmed that the arrest was part of a multi-agency investigation involving the IRS and the FBI. Back in September 2011, Gandara had said he couldn’t possibly back former El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke in his congressional bid because O’Rourke had advocated legalizing marijuana to take money away from Mexican cartels. “Legalizing drugs is the coward practice of combating cartels,” said Gandara. “It is an insult to our men and women in law enforcement, and the laziest form of parenting our children and youth about the effects of drugs.” He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison in November 2012.

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  • Steve Katz, New York Assemblyman

    Talk about practicing what you preach against: Despite voting against the legalization of medical marijuana last year, Katz was arrested for pot possession in March. The Republican was pulled over for speeding by a state trooper, who smelled marijuana in Katz’s car. Katz was obliged to turn over a small bag of weed. He called the arrest “an unfortunate incident,” but declared that he would not let it “impede my public service and my calls for real mandate relief, a better economic climate and better services for those in need in New York.” He’d previously been arrested for a DUI back in 2000. His challenger in the Republican primary, Dario Gristina, called for him to step down: "This is not the behavior you would expect from an elected official,” she said, “especially from a conservative county like ours. We have enough kids abusing drugs, and the last thing we need is for our elected representative being caught handing marijuana over to a police officer."

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  • Ted Vick, South Carolina State Rep.

    The Democratic former candidate for Congress was arrested in May, after being spotted “staggering side to side” and “struggling to maintain his balance” around the House of Representatives parking garage, before trying to drive away. A nearby cop witnessed the lawmaker “having trouble driving a straight line” and running over a flex cone. Vick refused a breathalyzer, although the officer noted “a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage” on his breath. The politician maintains he’d only had two glasses of wine and that his swerving was actually caused by “a rock” in his shoe. The married father of two was also arrested for DUI and unlawful possession of a gun back in May 2012; there was a 21-year-old college girl in the passenger seat that time. “Ted Vick needs to seek help for what seems to be a very major problem,” said Alex Stroman, director of the South Carolina GOP. “He should resign his seat so he can finally get the help that he so clearly needs.”

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  • Mike Crapo, Idaho Senator

    Despite identifying as a Mormon, fighting a war against meth in his state and publicly declaring himself teetotal, Crapo was arrested for DUI in Arlington, Virginia last December. After he was brought to jail, his blood alcohol was recorded at 0.14—nearly double the legal limit of 0.08. He later told CBS that after drinking vodka with tonic water, he took a drive to “try and wind down” and was pulled over by police on his way home. He also acknowledged having “on occasion having alcoholic drinks in my apartment” and apologized to his family, his constituents and his fellow Mormons for his “poor choice.” After pleading guilty to DUI, he was sentenced to 180 days in jail, all of them suspended. He also paid $250 in fines and court fees, had his driver’s license suspended for 12 months and was required to take a DUI course.

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  • Mel LeBlanc, Councilman for Arlington, Texas

    After an investigation lasting several months, a Feburary 2012 police report showed that Arlington’s interim deputy mayor had been obtaining meth and marijuana from prostitutes for several years. LeBlanc had been under investigation since July 2011, when his own wife, Candy, called 911 to express her concern that he was on drugs despite being released from rehab just two weeks earlier. She gave cops a bag of crystal meth that she’d found in their home and added that he was on K2 on the day she'd called for help. LeBlanc admitted to getting drugs from prostitutes, but denied relapsing. He said he didn’t know where the bag of meth came from. A grand jury declined to prosecute him for drug possession in December 2011, but he resigned from office days after the police report was released.

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  • Dustin Grubbs, Mayor of Poulan, Georgia

    This Republican was arrested for drug possession in September 2012. After being pulled over for a routine traffic stop because his utility trailer had no tag, police found a plastic bag containing 57 pills, including Vicodin and Oxycontin. A gun was also found in the truck, which led to an additional charge of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. “We're not going to give a break for someone just because they are a public figure or whatever,” said ADDU Commander Major Bill Berry. “If you're dealing dope and we catch you, you're going to have to take the ride." Grubbs was later released from county jail on $25,000 bond. He was indicted in January for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute—but he’s still currently serving as the Mayor of Poulan.

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  • Dirk Feldman, Member of South African Parliament

    En route from Johannesburg to Mumbai in July 2012 as part of an official parliamentary delegation, Feldman had a few too many drinks. This resulted in his trying to exit the aircraft—while it was several thousand feet up in the air. Feldman, a member of his country's Congress of the People (COPE) party, was placed in detention for several hours by Indian authorities when the plane landed, and was eventually sent back to South Africa. "He had too much to drink and they say he lost his inhibitions," (under)stated COPE’s chief, Dennis Bloem. South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party—which COPE split from in 2008—condemned Feldman’s “drunken escapades,” declaring that his behavior "places this Parliament and the country in a negative light." Feldman later apologized, claiming that he drank whiskey after taking a sleeping tablet and headache pill, thereby learning “a hard lesson not to drink alcohol with medication.”

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  • Danny Sparks, Mayor of Olive Hill, Kentucky

    Sparks was arrested in November 2012 for allegedly selling pot to a police informant—in the parking lot of an elementary school, no less. The arrest came after an interdepartmental task force had investigated Sparks’ activities over several weeks. He was charged with felony trafficking in marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. Although he initially called the arrest a “mistake,” he later issued a statement saying he would immediately resign from the position he had held for over a decade. "I hope that everyone will understand that I have always tried to do the very best for Olive Hill and hope that the people will understand that I will always try to continue to help in any way possible to better this City regardless of what position I may serve," said Sparks, a Republican. "What happen(ed) tonight is something I have never done before and deeply regret it and hope to move on."

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  • Francisco Hidalgo Guerrero, Former anti-drug COO in the Dominican Republic

    Does cover come much better than being the COO of the Dominican Republic’s main counter-drug agency? Guerrero was arrested in October 2012 for being a “powerful drug trafficker,” responsible for shifting tons of cocaine to the United States. The ex-police colonel, who helped run his country’s National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD), from 2006–2008, was extradited to the US to face four counts of drug trafficking. One witness stated that Guerrero was paid up to $2.5 million to protect 25 shipments of cocaine averaging 880 pounds between 2007–2009; another said that Guerrero requested to be paid in drugs, rather than money, in return for protecting a 1,500-pound cocaine shipment in 2008. 

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  • Marion Barry, Mayor of Washington, DC

    In arguably the biggest political drug scandal in US history, Washington, DC’s Democratic mayor was arrested in 1990 for crack cocaine use and possession. The hotel sting operation by the FBI and DC police was infamously caught on camera. Federal officials had been investigating Barry for six years; in the sting, his ex-girlfriend Rasheeda Moore invited Barry to the hotel and insisted that he smoke crack before they had sex, while agents in another room waited for him to accept the offer. Despite juror claims that the prosecution had falsified evidence as part of a racist conspiracy against Barry, he was convicted on a drug possession charge and sentenced to six months in federal prison. His story is one of political recovery: After being released in 1992, Barry returned to politics and won a fourth mayoral term in DC, from 1995–1999. He recently denied that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s alleged crack smoking had parallels to his own case: “Unless he was entrapped by the government, it’s not similar.”

    McCarton Ackerman is a frequent contributor to The Fix. He recently interviewed sober Filter frontman Richard Patrick.

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By McCarton Ackerman 06/19/13

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