Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, is taking a leave of absence after a drug bust. (Photo via Republican Conference / Flickr)

Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, is taking a leave of absence after a drug bust. (Photo via Republican Conference / Flickr)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, announced he is taking a leave of absence this week after he was sentenced to one year probation for misdemeanor cocaine possession.

Radel was part of a federal sting operation. Both the FBI and DEA were working to crack down on a big drug trafficking ring in the D.C. area. During that operation, a suspect told federal officials that one of his clients included a congressman. According to a news release from the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia:

According to a statement of offense submitted as part of the plea, Radel came to the attention of the FBI and DEA in the fall of 2013, during an investigation into cocaine trafficking in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Agents learned that Radel would purchase cocaine for his personal use and sometimes share it with others.

The statement of offense says that, on Oct. 29, 2013, Radel met with an undercover police officer at a restaurant in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, D.C. At this time, Radel agreed to buy about 3.5 grams of cocaine from the undercover officer. He and the undercover officer went outside, and Radel handed over $260. The undercover officer provided Radel with a package of cocaine. Federal agents then approached Radel and the cocaine was recovered.

Radel agreed to speak with the agents about what had taken place and invited them to his apartment. There, he voluntarily admitted that he had purchased the cocaine. He also retrieved and provided to the agents a vial of cocaine that he had in his apartment.

Even though Radel was busted on Oct. 29, the charges weren’t made public until Tuesday this week. The Freshman Tea Party-favorite pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine in a D.C. court on Wednesday and told the Superior Court judge he will be seeking professional help. Radel said in a statement this week that he struggles with alcoholism.

The backlash against the conservative lawmaker has made national news. The Florida Democratic Party said in a statement this week that Radel should step down. “Congressman Trey Radel’s conduct is an embarrassment to his district and to the state of Florida,” Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said in a statement. “The issues facing Florida and our country are too serious. Congressman Radel should resign immediately and allow the voters of Florida’s 19th Congressional District to elect a Representative that is able to effectively and honorably serve them.”

And it’s not just Democrats urging him to leave. According Marc Caputo of The Miami Herald, a former state legislator is already considering his seat.

Former Punta Gorda state Rep. Paige Kreegel, a Republican doctor who ran in a crowded 2012 primary won by Trey Radel, said he might challenge the congressman again after the political newcomer was busted in Washington for cocaine possession.

“He either has to have the decency to leave office or he’ll have to wait until the voters throw him out,” Kreegel said.

Does that mean you’d run?

“I’m not opposed to it,” Kreegel said. “But it’s early.”

… Asked about that race, Kreegel said of Radel: “First he was cyber-squatting on domain names of his opponents. He denied it. Then he admitted it and blamed someone else. Then it was reported he had pornographic websites, which he denied, and then admitted while blaming some underling at his business. What’s the next shoe to drop? We shall see.”

“It would have been for the voters to know before they elected him that he has a long-term alcohol and cocaine problem.”

As Caputo also points out, if Radel were to decide to stick it out for a re-election, he’s sure to get primaried in his deeply conservative district, where cocaine possession likely won’t go over so well.

In the national media—including on shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – Radel is also getting hammered for voting to drug test food stamp recipients, while hiding his own drug use. Adam Weinstein at Gawker pointed out:

Radel, a noted hip-hop expert and sex-themed web domain-name speculator, allegedly got stung trying to buy bumps of Big C from an undercover DEA agent in DC’s tony-ish Dupont Circle. But a month before he sought to ride the white pony with the college kids in Northwest, he was neck-deep in the House’s messy debate over whether to continue federal food-stamp benefits to needy families.

That debate culminated in Radel’s vote for a bill that would have authorized states to withhold food stamps from applicants who didn’t submit to a drug urinalysis. Which is pretty interesting, given that a similar plan in Radel’s home state, championed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, ended up as a disastrous waste of taxpayer money and a violation of impoverished welfare applicants’ Fourth Amendment rights.

During Congress’ debate over the pee-test amendment, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) presciently implied that his conservative colleagues were high as hell:

“Why don’t we drug test all the members of Congress here,” McGovern said shortly before the drug-testing measure passed. “Force everybody to go urinate in a cup or see whether or not anybody is on drugs? Maybe that will explain why some of these amendments are coming up or why some of the votes are turning out the way they are.”

But tragically, Radel didn’t pay attention, ’cause he was on that dust. (Allegedly.)

Despite the tough week, Radel hasn’t made any indication he is going to resign. Instead, he told reporters he is going to spend his leave of absence getting treatment at an in-patient facility.