Pol pleads guilty to cocaine charge, takes leave
CAPE CORAL, Florida (AP) — A Florida congressman said Wednesday he was taking a leave of absence from Congress and donating his salary to charity after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession and receiving a sentence of a year’s probation.
Henry “Trey” Radel, a Republican, made the announcement at a news conference where he acknowledged that he had let down his country, his family and southwest Florida residents.
He said he takes responsibility for what he did, adding, “I want to be a better man.”
“I’ve hit a bottom where I realize I need help,” Radel told a judge earlier Wednesday in Washington in acknowledging that he purchased 3.5 grams (.12 ounces) of cocaine from an undercover police officer.
As part of a plea agreement Radel acknowledged he agreed to buy the cocaine for $250 in a Washington neighborhood on Oct. 29. After the undercover officer gave Radel the drugs federal agents confronted him, court documents show. Radel agreed to talk with the agents and invited them to his apartment, where he also retrieved a vial of cocaine he had in the home, the documents said.
At his news conference in Florida late Wednesday night, Radel said he has been struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse “off and on for years.” He said he will enter an in-patient treatment program and that he was confident he could overcome his disease.
Radel said that his leave of absence takes effect immediately and that he had filed the necessary papers with the House clerk. In the meantime, he said constituent services would continue. He gave no indication he was going to resign.
“I want to come out of this stronger,” Radel said in court, later adding that he wants to “continue serving this country.”
A DEA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details of the case in his own name said Radel was identified to authorities as a cocaine buyer by his suspected dealer. The dealer had been arrested previously as part of a separate drug investigation led by a federal task force.
Court documents show that when Radel bought the cocaine on Oct. 29 he met with the undercover officer and an acquaintance with whom he had previously used cocaine. The documents said that Radel purchased cocaine on several previous occasions.
Radel’s lawyer, David Schertler, said in court that his client had already entered outpatient treatment in Washington and would also seek treatment in Florida. He said his client sees the charge as an opportunity to seek help for a problem.
If Radel successfully completes his year of probation the charge against him will be dismissed and he can apply to have his record expunged.
“I know I have a problem and will do whatever is necessary to overcome it, hopefully setting an example for others struggling with this disease,” Radel said in his statement Tuesday.
Radel appears to be the first sitting member of Congress charged with a drug offense since former Democratic Rep. Frederick Richmond was convicted in 1982 on charges of tax evasion and drug possession.
A spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the allegations are a matter for the courts.
“Beyond that, this is between Rep. Radel, his family and his constituents,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
The Florida Democratic Party released a statement Wednesday calling Radel’s conduct “an embarrassment to his district and to the state of Florida” and saying he “should resign immediately.”
Radel was elected in 2012 to represent Florida’s 19th Congressional District, which includes the Gulf Coast communities of Fort Myers and Naples. He was a radio host before becoming a congressman. He identifies himself on his Twitter profile as a “Hip Hop conservative” and “lover of #liberty,” and his Twitter account has remained active in the past few weeks, including on the day of the bust.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Alicia A. Caldwell, Eric Tucker and Laurie Kellman in Washington and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.