UPDATED 12:20 a.m.
After a five-month investigation, a group of Columbia students were arrested Tuesday morning for selling thousands of dollars worth of drugs out of fraternity houses and dorm rooms.
Five students pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon and remain in custody after the on-campus drug bust, which the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutors Office labeled “Operation Ivy League.”
Harrison David, SEAS ’12; Chris Coles, CC ’12; Adam Klein, CC ’12; Jose Stephan Perez (known as Stephan Vincenzo), CC ’12; and Michael Wymbs, SEAS ’11, were charged with selling cocaine, marijuana, MDMA, Adderall, and LSD, according to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office.
All five students were arraigned in Manhattan Supreme Court, where a judge set bail amounts ranging from $20,000 cash for Perez to $50,000 cash for David.
A spokesperson for the Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office said the only one prepared to post bail was Wymbs, who was expected to be released Tuesday night. The other four were taken to Rikers Island.
Prosecutors say the students sold most of the drugs out of common areas and bedrooms of the Alpha Epsilon Pi, Pi Kappa Alpha, and Psi Upsilon fraternity houses on 114th Street. Drugs were also sold from rooms in the Intercultural House and East Campus. Altogether, the students had made nearly $11,000 in sales to undercover officers since July.
Tuesday morning, officers searched the students’ rooms and found an additional $2,000 worth of drugs, including 50 ecstasy capsules, Adderall pills, a half-pound of marijuana, and a bottle of LSD, which prosecutors say was applied to Altoids and SweeTarts.
“I just sell it to pay tuition,” Coles said as he was being arrested at 6:20 a.m., according to documents from the assistant district attorney.
David told a detective, “Why do you think I have to do this shit? He [my father] won’t pay my tuition.”
A student who answered the door at Pi Kappa Alpha on Tuesday said the fraternity would not comment, as did a student at Alpha Epsilon Pi. The president of Psi Upsilon, Jordan Callaway, SEAS ’11, said he could not comment due to national fraternity protocol.
A spokesperson from the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office said that David was the main target of the investigation and was the only student to sell cocaine, including an $880 sale of nearly 20 grams on Sept. 7. The officers’ first several purchases were all from David, and the investigation expanded to include the other four students in October and November.
“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. These students were playing with fire,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a statement.
Coles sold marijuana exclusively, including a $5,000 sale of 1.5 pounds on Nov. 23. Klein, who competed on the fencing team last year, sold LSD exclusively, including the LSD on Altoids.
Wymbs, who served as the Engineering Student Council’s vice president for the class of 2011 in 2007-2008 and later as academic affairs representative, sold ecstasy and LSD on SweeTarts. Perez sold ecstasy, marijuana, and Adderall, the spokesperson confirmed.
At the arraignment, defense lawyers spoke highly of the defendants’ grades and extracurriculars, the spokesperson said.
On campus, students like Destiny Sullens, CC ’11 and an Intercultural House resident, said they were shocked by the police raid.
“It was very loud, very aggressive, the way it went down,” Sullens said. “It was really early this morning. ... I still haven’t quite come to terms with it.”
Sullens said she heard police enter the brownstones with battering rams. “I personally thought it was an earthquake,” she said.
A housing services employee next door to the frats in the Broadway dorm, who requested anonymity out of concern for his job, also witnessed the raid.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” the employee said. “They came in there knowing what they were looking for.”
In a statement sent to students, Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger said, “This morning the NYPD arrested five Columbia students in connection with an investigation into illegal drug activity. 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. Please rest assured we are taking this matter very seriously.”
A University spokesperson would not comment further on Columbia’s interactions with the NYPD or other city law enforcement agencies, though a spokesperson for the narcotics prosecutor said that Columbia did play a role in the arrests.
“Columbia helped us in making the arrests this morning and facilitated it for us, and it went very smoothly with their help. They were not involved in the investigation,” the spokesperson said, adding that it is unclear whether the University will continue be involved.
Mark Williams, executive director of the International Office of Psi Upsilon, said his organization would cooperate with the University and local authorities.
“We will have a staff member there on campus tomorrow to support the other members of the chapter through this … but we’ll also be there to work with the college and make sure they get whatever information they need to get,” Williams said.
“We have to find ... out if this was an individual acting by themselves, or if other members knew about it,” he added. “There are all sorts of things we can do short of revoking a charter.”
Williams said that, even if an individual within the fraternity acted without his brothers’ knowledge, the national fraternity would still be likely to take action.
“In the range of New York City, I’m assuming they’re really not the big fish,” said Katharine Celentano, GS and a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, who said she doesn’t believe the arrests will do anything to curb the dangers associated with drug use.
The five-month investigation also led to the arrests of three of the students’ suppliers, including Miron Sarzynski, a cocaine dealer who is also facing kidnapping charges.
On campus, students had mixed reactions to the bust.
One student who requested anonymity, and who belongs to a fraternity involved in the drug bust, said, “I’m as good as I can be, knowing that my friends are going to prison.”
“I feel bad for them,” Carina Un, BC ’11, said, adding that she thinks the students are being targeted because Columbia is in a major city. “Other Ivy League institutions are in the middle of nowhere.”
Others were not so sympathetic.
“It’ll teach them a lesson,” Adam Herrada, GS, said. “Coming to Columbia for a degree, leaving Columbia to go to jail...you get involved with the wrong crowd, sooner or later it’ll catch up with you.”
University President Lee Bollinger declined to comment.
Sonalee Rau, Sammy Roth, and Karla Jimenez contributed reporting.