Rep. Radel takes leave of absence after cocaine charge

WASHINGTON — Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., pleaded guilty Wednesday to possession of cocaine and tearfully told his constituents that he "let down our country" and will take a leave from office.

Radel, who was sentenced to one year of supervised probation, said at an emotional 10:30 p.m. ET news conference in Cape Coral, Fla. that he will donate his salary to a charity during his leave. But he stopped short of saying he would resign.

He said he will go into "intensive" drug treatment. "This is my wake-up call, I have been struggling with this . . . I am getting the help I need."

"I'm sorry, I have no excuse for what I've done," Radel said at the news conference. "I've let down our country. I've let down my wife, and even though he doesn't know it, I've let down my 2-year-old son."

He added that "I want to be a better man" and that he wants to "be a role model for the millions of others who suffer with this disease."

"I've hit a bottom where I realize I need help. And I have aggressively pursued that help," Radel said, as he admitted in District of Columbia Superior Court that he purchased 3.5 grams of cocaine.

The freshman congressman, who represents a solidly Republican district in southwest Florida, said at his court appearance that he'll enter a rehab program. He will also pay a $250 fine on the misdemeanor charge.

Radel, 37, vowed that he will "come out of this stronger" and told Judge Robert Tignor that he wants to "continue serving this country."

Radel is believed to be the first sitting member of Congress charged with a drug crime since then-Rep. Frederick Richmond, D-N.Y., who was convicted in 1982 on charges of drug possession and tax evasion.

Radel was caught buying drugs Oct. 29 from an undercover police officer, according to a statement filed in court by prosecutors and signed by him. The statement explains that agents investigating cocaine trafficking in Washington learned from an informant that Radel "had on several occasions purchased, possessed, and used cocaine." After he was caught, Radel invited federal agents to his apartment where he turned over a vial of cocaine he had there.

The arrest of Radel, who was elected last year with Tea Party support in the Fort Myers-Naples area district, rocked Congress and his home state. The congressman's arrest comes as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been stripped of his powers by the City Council for smoking crack, drinking and boorish behavior.

Radel, a former TV reporter before entering politics, apologized for his actions during his court appearance. "I have let my constituents down, my country down and, most importantly, my wife and child down," Radel said.

In a statement Tuesday expressing remorse, he said he struggles with alcoholism.

"This led to an extremely irresponsible choice," Radel said in his statement. "Believe me, I am disappointed in myself, and I stand ready to face the consequences of my actions."

Radel indicated to Terry Miller, chairman of the Lee County (Fla.) Republican Party, that he would serve out his term in Congress and return to work after the December recess, reports the Fort Myers News-Press.

The Florida Democratic Party called on Radel to resign immediately from Congress. "Congressman Trey Radel's conduct is an embarrassment to his district and to the state of Florida," said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement through spokesman Michael Steel on Tuesday night stressing that members of Congress should be "held to the highest standards" and that the incident is "between Rep. Radel, his family and his constituents."

Radel reportedly did not inform Boehner of his situation until Tuesday afternoon, according to a Washington Post report that cited an unnamed "senior GOP aide familiar with the conversation."

On Radel's Facebook page Tuesday night, there were posts that were both supportive and angry. While some people gave him credit for taking responsibility for his actions, others blasted him for his behavior.

As a member of Congress, Radel has co-sponsored legislation to change the nation's mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws and voted for a bill that called for states to drug test people who receive food stamps. He often talks about his love of hip-hop music and is a frequent user of social media such as Twitter.

Contributing: Donna Leinwand Leger and the Associated Press

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