(CAPE CORAL, Fla.) — Florida Republican congressman Trey Radel will take a leave of absence from Congress and donate his salary to charity after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession.
“I’m owning up to my actions. I’m taking responsibility. I’m taking it very publicly,” Radel told a group of reporters at a news conference Wednesday night from his Cape Coral, Fla., office.
Radel acknowledged that he had let down his country, his family and southwest Florida residents.
“I’m struggling with this disease, but I know that I can overcome it,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Radel appeared in a Washington, D.C., court and was placed on one-year probation with “minimal supervision.” The freshman congressman also admitted to being an addict.
“I’ve been dealing with this on and off for years. The most important thing is to rely on professionals,” Radel told reporters.
Radel, 37, plans to start “intensive inpatient treatment” immediately. In the meantime, the congressman said he will donate his salary to charity, but his offices will stay open. He gave no indication he was going to resign.
“I will be taking a leave of absence and all offices, this team that I have in Washington and here in southwest Florida, will be working every single day like they have been for this past year for you. They are working hard. They are here to serve the people and they will continue to do so,” he said.
Radel repeated that he needed to rebuild trust with his family and the people of southwest Florida.
“I’m doing so because I want to be a better man. I want to be a better man for you. I want to be a better man for southwest Florida,” Radel said.
“I hate the word constituents. What this is about is my friends, my family and my neighbors and each and every one of them,” he continued.
Radel was the target of an undercover sting operation, prosecutors told the court earlier in the day.
Radel, according to sources, first came on the radar of federal authorities when a suspected cocaine dealer under investigation by a joint Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI task force told agents that one of his customers was the Florida congressman.
According to prosecutors, confidential sources told authorities that Radel had purchased cocaine “on several occasions” for his own use, and “on occasion” would share that cocaine with others.
About 10 p.m. on Oct 29, Radel met a confidential source and an undercover law enforcement officer at a Washington restaurant, prosecutors said. At the restaurant, Radel told the two that he had cocaine back at his apartment and said they could go back and use some, according to testimony.
They declined the offer to share coke with Radel, but the undercover officer said he could sell 3.5 grams to Radel, prosecutors said. Outside the restaurant, Radel gave the undercover officer $260, and then inside a car, the undercover officer gave Radel the cocaine, according to prosecutors.
When Radel stepped outside of the car, federal authorities approached him. He dropped the bag of cocaine on the street. Radel admitted to authorities that he bought cocaine. Ultimately he and authorities went back to his apartment, where Radel retrieved another vial of cocaine and gave it to authorities, they told the court.
“What did you believe you were purchasing?” the judge asked Radel.
“A drug. Cocaine. I plead guilty,” the congressman replied.
Radel’s lawyer David Schertler told the court, “He has a disease… He recognizes that this isn’t a problem that is going away overnight.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Karl Colder said in a statement after Radel’s court appearance, “We want young people to see the price people pay for drug abuse and trafficking in cases like this so they will resolve to live drug-free lives.”
In sentencing Radel to probation, Judge Robert Tignor noted that it was a first-time offense and probation gives Radel and others like him an opportunity “to prove themselves.”
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