A Brief History of Members of Congress Breaking the Law

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The arrest of Florida Rep. Trey Radel for cocaine possession puts him in rarified company. Only 68 members of the House and Senate have been convicted of crimes while in office — and only two of those were convicted of drug possession.

We decided to break down the numbers. Using this handy Wikipedia list of legislators who've been convicted of crimes — which, we hasten to point out, Radel has not — we looked at which states, decades, and chamber of Congress were most likely to see criminal convictions.

Convictions by chamber

This one is a gimme. The House, given that it has far more members, has seen more convictions. Sixty-four members of the House have been convicted of crimes. Only four Senators have been.

Convictions by decade

Setting aside Rep. Matthew Lyon's 1778 conviction for sedition, every congressmember's conviction has come since 1900.

You'll notice that we're on something of a downward trend. In the 1970s, a series of scandals took down members of Congress (for example, Koreagate). In the 1980s, the spike was from Abscam. In the 1990s — an array of things.

We didn't include executive branch convictions, which, thanks to Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandal, would have made the 1970s and 1980s bars much, much higher.

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Convictions by state

Only one representative from Radel's home state of Florida have been convicted of crimes: Richard Kelly, who was busted in Abscam after taking $25,000 in bribes by federal agents posing as Middle Eastern businessmen.

The grand champions of criminal convictions? Pennsylvania. Nice work, guys.

Convictions by crime

Here's the really interesting stuff. Since this isn't conducive to a chart, an old-fashioned list of crimes.

  • Bribery, 11 times
  • Fraud, 10 times
  • Corruption, 9 times
  • Abscam, 7 times
  • Tax evasion, 3 times
  • Possession, 3 times (including Radel)
  • Campaign law , 3 times
  • Koreagate, 2 times
  • Extortion, 2 times
  • Embezzlement, 2 times
  • Drunk driving, 2 times

Fourteen crimes fit into the category of "other." Among them: Disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, perjury, false disclosure, misuse of funds, sexual assault, voter fraud, manslaughter, and lewd conduct. And: Leaving the scene of an accident — for which Ted Kennedy was convicted in 1969.

Incidentally, Radel holds one record by himself. The two possession convictions were for marijuana, and accompanied other charges. Radel, if convicted, will be the only member convicted of possession cocaine.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.