By MIKE LEVINE and MARYALICE PARKS | ABC News
CAPE CORAL, Fla. (ABC)—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
“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
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 purchases 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 $260, and then inside a car,
the undercover 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
Redal'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, Tignor noted that the congressman it
was a first-time offense and probation gives Radel and others like him
an opportunity “to prove themselves.”
ABC News' Jack Date and Anthony Castellano contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 by ABC News.