Florida Rep. Trey Radel's arrest for buying cocaine off an undercover cop in Washington, D.C., is notable for many reasons. Not the least of which: The "fiscal conservative" appears to have significantly overpaid for his dope.* Yet another example of Congress wasting money.
According to the charging document, obtained by the Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly, Radel met with a man with whom he'd used cocaine in the past at a resturant in D.C.'s popular Dupont Circle area. They were joined by a third man, an undercover police officer. Radel invited the two to his apartment to use the drug, which the two declined. The officer and Radel discussed cocaine that the officer had for sale, with the congressman agreeing to buy 3.5 grams for $250.
The Wire called the Drug Enforcement Agency's Washington, D.C. office to get a sense for how reasonable a price tag that was. The cost "all depends on where you're at," the public information officer we spoke with told us, but that in Washington, a half ounce of coke goes for $450 to $600. That depends on a number of things, including quality, of course, but those are the going rates. (How does the DEA determine those figures? The agency has "different ways of finding out," we were told. They buy drugs undercover and use intelligence from dealers on the street.)
A quick conversion shows that Radel got a bum deal. There are about 14 grams in a half ounce, but the amount Radel bought is generally referred to as an "eight ball," an eighth of an ounce. The $450 to $600 street price means $32 to $42 a gram — or $110 to $150 for an eight ball like the one Radel bought. He overpaid by at least $90, according to the DEA.
This is particularly high given the price of coke in South Florida, the region he represents. In nearby Miami, we were told, coke goes for about the same price for an ounce as in D.C., but for $25 to $50 for a gram. In Florida, a buyer would pay $87 to $175 for those 3.5 grams, depending on quality. So the $250 Radel paid in D.C. is three times what he could have paid for stepped-on coke in his own district.
In a March interview with Roll Call, Radel said that his favorite vacation spot away from Florida was Cartagena, Colombia (a response he now probably regrets). In Colombia, according to this (fairly sketchy) website we found, coke goes for about $4 a gram. There, Radel could have gotten 3.5 grams for less than he probably paid for parking in Dupont Circle.
* There have been some questions about the use of "dope" in this context. The DEA agent with whom we spoke used that term in this context. We, like others, generally associate it with marijuana.