Radel: ‘I realize I need help’

An avid Twitter user, Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) was busy sending messages to his 8,000 followers on Oct. 29, promoting a radio appearance he was scheduled to make and criticizing ObamaCare. The 37-year-old freshman lawmaker also cast five votes in the House that day and, several hours later, was busted for buying cocaine at a posh restaurant in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Nihar Mohanty.

Radel, who pleaded guilty in a district court Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession, became the first sitting congressman to be convicted of a drug offense in more than 30 years, and the first to be convicted for cocaine, according to congressional records.

{mosads}In a brief statement prior to sentencing, a grim Radel said he had “hit a bottom where I realize I need help,” and apologized for letting his constituents down.

Mohanty, who prosecuted the government’s case, recounted the crime in a statement read to the court.

According to Mohanty, Radel met an acquaintance at a Dupont restaurant on the day in question and invited the acquaintance, and an undercover police officer, back to Radel’s apartment to use cocaine.

The prosecutor said Radel had previously used cocaine with the acquaintance.

Mohanty said FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, while investigating the drug trade in the D.C. area, had learned earlier this fall that Radel had bought and used cocaine several times before, and had shared it with others.

When the two declined Radel’s offer, the undercover officer offered to sell the congressman some cocaine and, after discussing the drug’s quality, Radel agreed to buy 3.5 grams for $250, according to Mohanty.

After completing the deal in the officer’s car, Radel was confronted by federal agents, authorities said.

Afterward, Radel took the agents to his apartment and handed over a vial containing more cocaine, Mohanty said.

According to a law enforcement source, the establishment where Radel met the undercover officer was Circa, a restaurant and bar one block north of Dupont Circle.

After the prosecutor read the statement, Superior Court Judge Robert Tignor asked Radel whether he agreed with the government’s assertions and knew that he was purchasing cocaine. Radel said that he did.

Following the acceptance of Radel’s guilty plea, defense attorney David Schertler urged leniency for his client. He pointed out that Radel had no prior criminal history and had been a productive businessman for many years.

He said Radel’s troubles were rooted in the “disease of alcoholism,” a claim Radel himself had made in an official statement Tuesday night. He said Radel had already begun out-patient therapy with the Executive Addiction Disease Program in Washington, and planned to soon enter in-patient treatment in Florida.

Mohanty said the government had no objection to Radel seeking treatment in Florida, and Tignor endorsed Radel’s plan.

Radel was sentenced to a year of supervised probation and was warned that any violation of probation would expose him to up to six months in jail, authorities said.

After the court proceedings, Radel silently evaded questions from a gauntlet of reporters who asked whether he intended to resign. 

Radel, who represents the 19th Congressional District around Fort Myers, had been a rising star in the Republican Party.

The former reporter and radio host frequently describes himself as a “hip hop conservative” eager to break the mold for how lawmakers interact with voters. An avid user of social media, Radel said he strived to be the “most accessible member” of Congress, frequently inviting and answering questions not only on politics but also on music, food and drinks.

Thus far Radel has shown no signs that he plans to leave office. During his statement to the court on Wednesday, Radel said he hoped to kick his addictions in order to “continue serving my country.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Lee County Republican Party in Radel’s home district said Radel told him he looked forward to returning to Congress in January.

Even if Radel chooses not to resign, his political future is murky. His district is solidly Republican and gave him 62 percent of the vote in 2012, but at least four of his primary opponents have expressed openness to again challenging Radel in a primary.

“You can’t be a congressman and a coke addict at the same time,” said Timothy John Rossano, a Florida businessman and former primary foe.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has remained guarded about Radel’s future, saying it is “between Rep. Radel, his family, and his constituents.” 

Should Radel choose to run for reelection, he will be vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. While he backed a House resolution that would give judges greater leeway to grant lenient sentences in drug cases, he also backed a House measure that would compel food stamp recipients to undergo drug tests and disqualify them if they test positive.

Tags Politics Trey Radel

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