In more than 30 years as a federal prosecutor, Patrick Molloy pursued convictions against everyone from moonshiners to corrupt public officials and even a sheriff accused of waterboarding prisoners.
Along the way, he was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky for four years and was the top federal prosecutor in Idaho for a period, and he advised Eastern European countries on ways to improve their judicial systems.
Molloy, 74, retired as an assistant federal prosecutor effective Friday.
"I can't overstate what a thrill it's been," Molloy said of his career as a prosecutor.
Molloy, who grew up in Fayette County, finished college at Transylvania University and law school at the University of Kentucky before joining the U.S. attorney's office in Lexington in 1967.
He was commonwealth's attorney for Fayette County from 1972 to 1977 before going back to the federal office as the top prosecutor for the eastern half of Kentucky from 1977 to 1981.
The office prosecuted a number of law officers during his tenure for crimes including shaking down bootleggers or padding the expense vouchers they submitted to the state, Molloy said.
With his characteristic humor, Molloy said the job was a political appointment.
It was wonderful "right up to the time we had an election," he said.
Molloy later worked in private practice and as an assistant federal prosecutor in the Houston office.
It was there that he helped prosecute what might be the only case of alleged waterboarding in America in the past 50 years: the case of James "Humpy" Parker, sheriff of San Jacinto County, north of Houston.
Parker and three deputies handcuffed people to a stiff-backed wooden chair, tilted them back, put a cloth over their faces, and poured water over the cloth — a technique that creates the terrifying sense of drowning.
Parker used the technique to try to get information, such as where people had hidden stolen goods, Molloy said.
"We put his butt in the penitentiary," Molloy said.
After the federal prosecutor in Idaho came under criticism in connection with the deadly confrontation between federal authorities and a survivalist at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, Molloy was tapped to take over the office for several months in 1993.
He later returned to Kentucky after Joseph Famularo was nominated to become U.S. attorney in Lexington that year.
Molloy said he handled only criminal cases as a federal prosecutor. It would have been "instant malpractice" had he taken on a civil case, he said.
Molloy said he didn't keep track of how many cases he handled, although it would have been hundreds.
Molloy handled no shortage of high-profile cases, including the prosecution of Steve Keller and others associated with a company called Kelco Inc.
The company bought life-insurance policies from seriously ill people and sold the policies as an investment. The investors paid the premiums to keep the policies in force, then collected the payout when the insured person died.
However, federal authorities charged that the company helped terminally ill people get policies with a total face value of $37 million by hiding their conditions from insurers, and it defrauded the insurance companies or investors.
Keller and other company officers went to prison.
Molloy also handled the case against a Harlan County coal company and three supervisors accused in 2012 of having miners work in unsafe conditions.
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove fined the company, Manalapan Mining, $150,000 — the largest criminal fine for a coal company in Eastern Kentucky in at least 20 years, according to U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey's office.
The people affected by the crimes he has prosecuted stick with Molloy — the barber who lost his life savings of $300,000 in the Kelco case, the coal miners who needed someone to stick up for them, the woman who was sexually abused by a deputy jailer at the Carter County jail.
One of the victims in the jail case was heartbreaking, Molloy said — a woman who was mentally challenged, but had the courage to testify against the abuser.
"You come away from that and you think maybe you helped somebody," Molloy said.
Harvey said Molloy has been a shining example of a public servant.
"He has made tremendous contributions to his community and his nation," Harvey said. "Simply put, our communities are better places because of the skill, dedication and unwavering commitment to the cause of justice that he has brought to every case he has touched over a stellar career."
The work changed significantly over the years, Molloy said.
When he first became a federal prosecutor, he said, the office essentially handled three kinds of cases in Eastern Kentucky: moonshine, property theft and Social Security fraud.
It's a far different story now. Congress has federalized more crimes; the office has a heavy drug caseload and handles complex financial crimes, among other things, Molloy said.
Molloy said his plans for retirement include traveling with his wife, Nanci, and doing some work on a farm they own.
Molloy said he enjoyed getting to learn about a variety of professions during his career and that he will miss his co-workers, but he joked that he won't miss all the passwords and security codes at the office.
"You don't know what a relief it is," he said.
Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.