His 2013 arrest briefly rose to national attention when it was revealed Radel had voted to drug test poor people before they could receive food stamps and other social services.
That was enough for even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, to weigh in on the bust.
“It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested,” she chided. “It’s like, what?”
The hypocrisy was palpable, and it should have marked the end of his political career.
But when you’re a well-educated white conservative from a wealthy Republican district, it appears different rules apply.
Before launching his political career, Radel, 40, was a Florida television and conservative radio talk show host for CBS affiliate, WINK-TV, Ch 9, and WFSX-FM 92.5 radio, owned by Fox News Radio.
In 2012, he decided to run for Congress in Florida’s 19th District which covers the wealthy suburbs of Fort Myers down to Marco Island, an exclusive enclave on the peninsula’s west coast.
The district is solidly Republican. George W. Bush carried it by more than 73 percent and 60 percent, respectively, in his two elections. John McCain won the district by 65 percent in 2008, even though President Obama won the state.
Radel faced off against five other GOP candidates. But he alone was endorsed by the incumbent Connie Mack IV, who was vacating the seat to run for Senate.
Also endorsing him were former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is now a close adviser to President-elect Donald Trump.
With that kind of support, the election should have been a cake-walk. But Radel was engulfed in a controversy when he lied about buying the Internet domain names of his opponents nearly a year before he declared for office.
Nonetheless, he won with 30 percent of the vote in the divided primary. He easily beat his Democratic challenger and was pretty much assured of a long, cushy career in Congress, representing the most heavily Republican district in Florida.
Radel took office in Jan. 2013. Ten months later, on Oct. 10, he was arrested in Washington, D.C. for trying to buy 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover federal officer. Estimated street value: About $250.
He was facing up to 180 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both for misdemeanor possession. It wasn’t the first time he tried to score cocaine, according to police.
If he’d been arrested in Florida, where Republicans favor stiff drug sentences, he would have been facing serious jail time.
The penalty for possessing any amount of cocaine is a maximum of five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and the loss of driving privileges for two years, according to legal references.
Radel pleaded guilty less than a month later under a provision in D.C. law that allows first-time offenders, at the discretion of a judge, to receive “probation before judgment.”
He was sentenced to one year of supervised probation and did a stint in a Florida rehab center. At the end of his probation, a judge expunged the charges and sealed the case files, sparing Radel from a criminal record.
He didn’t even bother to resign. Instead, he took a leave of absence.
Back in Florida, however, the Republican Party and GOP Gov. Rick Scott were outraged. They demanded his resignation. Radel gave up his seat in January two years ago.
Others in the District of Columbia aren’t so lucky. A study by the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs found that eight out of 10 arrests for drug possession involved minorities.
The study also found that the arrests were contributing to a chronic unemployment problem. Individuals with criminal records found it difficult to find a job, it noted.
But Radel wouldn’t face that problem.
He returned to Florida, started his own consulting firm, landed a gig as a conservative radio talk show host and announced he was writing a book to “share my inside look at how Congress works, and sometimes doesn’t work, for the American people,” he said in an interview.
It’s slated to be published next year by Blue Rider Press, affiliated with the Penguin Group USA, according reports.
Earlier this year, he started getting back into public life, including an appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” The subject: The nation’s war on drugs.
“First rule of Fight Club: Don’t buy cocaine from a federal agent,” Radel joked on the show. What he forgot to add was… unless you are white and privileged.
Expect to hear more from Radel in the coming year. Don’t be surprised if he ends up in the Trump administration.
Check out the video below.