RICHMOND, FEB. 18 -- Shortly before his trial was to begin on two felony drug counts of possessing cocaine and heroin, Richmond City Council member Henry (Chuck) Richardson pleaded guilty today to a pair of misdemeanor drug charges.

Under a plea bargain the cocaine charge was withdrawn and the heroin offense was reduced to possession of a dangerous drug. Richardson, 39, pleaded guilty to the amended charge and also to possession of drug paraphernalia.

He was fined $100 on each charge and placed on supervised probation. Richardson, who has served on the council for 10 years, also agreed to undergo drug rehabilitation treatment.

Only two days before the trial began Richardson vowed a vigorous defense to clear his name, but instead admitted in court to having a drug problem. It began when he was a soldier in Vietnam in 1969, he said afterward.

"It's been a tremendously difficult and dangerous trip," he said. The plea was a "culmination of a lot of things that I had been dealing with."

A conviction on either felony count would have cost Richardson his right to vote and made him ineligible to seek reelection to the council in May. If such a conviction had been upheld on appeal, he would have been removed from office immediately.

Richmond police arrested Richardson and another man in a car Oct. 15 while conducting an unrelated surveillance operation.

They said they recovered two syringes and other drug paraphernalia from the auto.