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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Columbia University Students Selling Drugs To Pay Tuition? "Operation Ivy League"

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Five Columbia Students Charged With Selling Drugs On Campus

Five students at Columbia University in New York were arrested and accused of selling drugs at fraternity houses and other on-campus residences.

The indictment of the students and three other people followed a five-month investigation called “Operation Ivy League,” authorities said yesterday. Undercover officers spent $11,000 in 31 purchases of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, powdered MDMA or ecstasy, and LSD-laced Altoids mints and Sweetarts candy, the New York City Police Department and Bridget G. Brennan, a special narcotics prosecutor, said in a statement.

“The students arrested today supplied dangerous substances to their friends and other students to turn a quick profit, but subjected themselves to risks, of which they were either ignorant or in denial,” Brennan said in yesterday’s statement.

The Columbia students were identified as Harrison David, 20; Chris Coles, 20; Adam Klein, 20; Jose Stephan Perez, 20; and Michael Wymbs, 22. All of the students pleaded not guilty during an initial appearance before judge Michael Sonberg yesterday.

Coles is from Philadelphia; David is from Wrentham, Massachusetts; Klein is from Cloister, New Jersey; and Perez is from Atlanta, said Kati Cornell, a spokeswoman for the special narcotics office. The three people accused of being their suppliers aren’t students.

William Novak, an assistant district attorney, said David, a third-year engineering student, told investigators he used drug proceeds to help cover tuition costs. Tuition is about $41,600 for the 2010-11 academic year, according to the university’s website.

‘Limited Financial Ability’

Perez, who wore a Columbia sweatshirt at his arraignment, is a scholarship student with “limited financial ability,” and his mother is a marine biologist with a modest income, his attorney, Robert Weinstein, said in court yesterday.

Wymbs, a senior with a 3.5 grade point average, never had a run-in with the law before yesterday’s arrest, said his attorney, Michael Bachner. He is applying to graduate schools and hopes the arrest won’t derail those plans, Bachner said.

Wymbs was student council president and salutatorian in high school and in the summer worked as a biostatician for a cancer research program, Bachner said. His father, who was in court yesterday, is a professor of international business in the city and his mother is a partner at a law firm.

Most of the sales took place in common areas and bedrooms at the Alpha Epsilon Pi, Pi Kappa Alpha and Psi Upsilon fraternities, according to the statement. Coles and Wymbs allegedly sold drugs from their rooms at the Intercultural House and East Campus Housing.

Expulsion Possible

Students who violate the school’s prohibition on illicit drugs may face disciplinary measures that can include expulsion, according to the university’s website.

“The alleged behavior of the students involved in this incident goes against not only state and federal law, but also university policy and the principles we have set -- and strive together to maintain -- for our community,” Columbia told students in a message yesterday, according to an e-mail from school spokesman Robert Hornsby. “Please rest assured we are taking this matter very seriously.”

Columbia, founded in 1754, has about 25,000 students. Graduates include President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., who attended Columbia Business School. It is one of eight private schools in the northeastern U.S. that make up the Ivy League.

Alleged Suppliers

Alleged suppliers Miron Sarzynski, 23, and his girlfriend, Megan Asper, 22, were arrested on Oct. 27 in the East Village section of Manhattan, the statement said. Sarzynski allegedly sold drugs to undercover officers seven times and made drugs at his apartment on East Sixth Street.

Searches of the students’ rooms this morning yielded a bottle of LSD, 50 capsules of MDMA, 15 Adderall pills, more than half a pound of marijuana and about $2,000 in cash, the statement said.

An October raid of Sarzynski’s apartment turned up two dozen marijuana plants, equipment for growing marijuana, jars of the drug DMT, a bottle of LSD, $1,200 cash and two air pistols.

Sarzynski is also charged with attempting to kidnap a pair of rival cocaine traffickers who he thought stole money from him, and trying to hire an undercover officer to help him, according to the statement.

Kidnapping Plan

Sarzynski’s alleged plan was to kidnap the rival traffickers with a stun gun, hold them for ransom and torture them by giving them a heavy dose of LSD, the statement said. He planned to kill them if they didn’t pay, and handed a vial of LSD to the officer before his arrest.

A third alleged cocaine supplier, Roberto Lagares, 30, was arrested Dec. 5 at the Kingsborough Houses, a New York City Housing Authority Development in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, according to the police statement.

Sarzynski and Asper were arraigned last month and are still in custody, Cornell said. Lagares was arraigned yesterday. Bail for the eight suspects was set between $10,000 and $250,000.

Psi Upsilon had no “official comment” on yesterday’s events “but will continue to cooperate with the university to ‘get to the bottom of this.’” Paul Warren, president of Pi Kappa Alpha, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment, and Carlos Eduardo Rodriguez Castillo, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, declined to comment in a telephone interview.

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Sources:, MSNBC, NY Daily News, Google Maps

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