Fla. congressman to resign after cocaine scandal

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 27, 2014 at 4:46 pm •  Published: January 27, 2014

MIAMI (AP) — After going through rehab for cocaine and alcohol abuse and pledging that he'd work through his problems to regain his Florida constituents' trust, Trey Radel's short career in Congress ended with a whimper Monday.

Facing a House ethics investigation, a growing group of primary challengers and the steady drumbeat of a Republican establishment calling for him to step down, the 37-year-old, who pleaded guilty to cocaine-possession charges last year, quietly tendered his resignation letter.

"Regardless of some personal struggles in 2013, this year has already been tremendously positive as I focus on my health, family and faith," he wrote to House Speaker John Boehner. "Unfortunately, some of my struggles had serious consequences."

On Nov. 20, the freshman Republican pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession and was sentenced to a year of probation. He admitted to purchasing 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover officer Oct. 29 in Washington.

"While I have dealt with those issues on a personal level, it is my belief that professionally I cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States Representative to the place I love and call home, southwest Florida," Radel wrote in the letter.

Politico first reported the resignation Monday morning.

Several GOP leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott, had asked him to resign. But Radel had pledged to stay in office after taking a leave of absence and completing a monthlong in-patient treatment program for drug and alcohol abuse. In a defiant prime-time news conference last month, he defended his legislative record and pledged to redouble his congressional efforts "with a clearer focus and a stronger mind."

After returning to Congress this month, he apologized to Republican colleagues and assured them in a closed-door meeting that he was in a good place and had found a support group, according to House aides who spoke on condition of anonymity at the time because they weren't authorized to discuss the private meeting.

Political pressure, however, was building.

The House Ethics Committee announced last month that it was launching a formal investigation of the congressman, and at least one of his former rivals, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel, had vowed to challenge him in a GOP primary. On Monday, Scott lauded Radel's decision.

"I think he did the right thing for his family. He did the right thing for the state," Scott told reporters in Miami. "I'm glad he's getting taken care of" by undergoing treatment.

Meanwhile, the outlines of a crowded campaign to replace Radel in Florida's solidly Republican 19th District began to take shape. Scott will set a date for a special election to fill Radel's seat.

Lizbeth Benacquisto, the GOP majority leader of the state Senate, said she was weighing a congressional bid while former Rep. Connie Mack IV, who represented the area for eight years before a failed run for Senate, hinted at a potential run.

Kreegel, who announced his campaign earlier this month, said Radel's resignation gives constituents the chance to move on.

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