Nightly News   |  November 20, 2013

How Rep. Radel was caught trying to buy cocaine

Prosecutors say Congressman Trey Radel agreed to buy 3.5 grams of cocaine during a sting set up by federal agents. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> a republican member of congress today pleaded guilty to cocaine charges. representative trey radell of florida , a freshman congressman was arrested as part of an undercover sting operation . our justice correspondent pete williams has more tonight on how he came to the attention of authorities and how he got caught.

>> reporter: congressman radell walked into a washington , d.c. court reporters as the first member of the u.s. congress ever charged with buying cocaine. i plead guilty , he told the judge who gave him a year of probation. he was caught because a member of a drug ring that was under federal investigation told agents ta a congressman was a repeat customer. so they set up a sting. here is how prosecutors say it happened. the congressman met with an undercover police officer at this restaurant in washington , d.c. 's dupont circle neighborhood and agreed to buy three and a half grams of cocaine for $260. for comparison here is what three and a half grams of baking powder looks like. uh outside they went to the undercover police officer 's car where the congressman got the cocaine. back out on the street, federal drug agents moved in. he's 37 and a former radio talk show host and anchorman in florida .

>> i'm a conservative. i don't want my son growing up in a bankrupt nation.

>> reporter: his campaign last fall in a hard fought republican primary ended in victory with support from tea party members.

>> i knew washington was broken before coming here.

>> reporter: he told his republican colleagues in congress about the drug charge only yesterday. today they are not saying much. but the florida democratic party put out a statement calling him an embarrassment to his district and the state saying he should resign immediately.

>> people like the redemption narrative. at the same time people don't like their elected representative going to washington , d.c. , buying cocaine and appearing to party it up while they are struggling to get by.

>> reporter: congressman radel said he will begin drug treatment florida . pete williams , nbc news, washington .