By Nicole Bode, Leslie Albrecht, Ben Fractenberg and Michael Ventura
MANHATTAN — Five Columbia University students arrested Tuesday for allegedly selling cocaine, LSD, marijuana and other drugs out of frat houses and on-campus dorm rooms pleaded not guilty at an afternoon arraignment.
Chris Coles, Harrison David, Adam Klein and Joseph Stephen Perez, all 20, and Michael Wymbs, 22, were arrested in early morning raids, police said. The five Ivy Leaguers were led into the courthouse handcuffed to a chain. Four of them tried to hide their faces with hooded sweatshirts — one of the five wore a Columbia University sweatshirt while another wore a fraternity sweatshirt.
Three other people, believed to be the students' suppliers, were arrested earlier, police said. One of them allegedly tried to hire an undercover police officer to kidnap, torture and possibly kill rival drug dealers, according to police.
The arrests came after a five-month investigation dubbed "Operation Ivy League," where undercover narcotics officers bought nearly $11,000 worth of marijuana, cocaine, powdered ecstasy, Adderall and LSD from the students, according to officials from the NYPD's Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor.
The drugs were brought at fraternity houses including Psi Upsilon, where Klein lives, Pi Kappa Alpha, where Perez lives, Alpha Epsilon Pi, where David lives, and also the Intercultural House, where Coles lives. Wymbs lives in East Campus Housing on Morningside Drive, according to police.
"These are very serious allegations and we'll do whatever we can to cooperate with the authorities and get to the bottom of what happened," said Mark Williams, executive director of the Psi Upsilon fraternity.
At the arraignment attorneys for the students tried to paint them in a positive light, in some cases highlighting the accomplishments that had won them admission into the prestigious university.
An attorney for Wymbs mentioned that his client, a senior in Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Science, maintains a 3.5 GPA, was president of his high school student council and spent last summer working at a cancer research facility.
But prosecutors said Wymbs was an expert at selling MDMA and LSD — he allegedly dosed candies such as SweeTARTS with acid. Prosecutors said Wymbs sold drugs five times to under-cover agents, dispensing 40 pills of MDMA and 30 drops of LSD. Wymbs was arrested with more than $500 in cash on him, police said.
Wymbs was the only student with a parent in the courtroom. His father attended the arraignment, and Wymbs looked back at him several times to make eye contact during the proceedings.
An attorney for Joseph Stephen Perez said his client is the only one who "doesn't come from financial means." Perez is on financial aid and his mother is a marine biologist in the Bahamas, the attorney said.
Perez, who writes poetry under the pen name Stephan Vincenzo, is a political science student who liked to write poetry for the Columbia Spectator and ran a party planning service called 11th Floor Entertainment out of his freshman-year dorm room, according to a school blog.
Investigators caught Perez and at least two of the other defendants on video selling drugs, prosecutors said. They said Perez sold them Adderall and amphetamines five times.
Prosecutors said Perez put up a fight when he was arrested Tuesday morning. Police found him with more than $500 in cash, prosecutors said.
When Coles was arrested, he told police he was selling the drugs to pay for school, prosecutors said. He was charged with selling marijuana, according to the special narcotics prosecutor's office, and was arrested with more than $900.
David was salutatorian of his Massachusetts prep school, sources said. He was charged with selling marijuana and cocaine, officials said. David also pays his own tuition, according to prosecutors, and told investigators that he was selling drugs so he could afford school, saying, "Why do you think I have to do this sh**, he [David's father] won't pay my tuition." He was caught with more than $700 on him, investigators said.
Klein, who was studying biological sciences, was accused of selling LSD, even sprinkling some on Altoids breath mints and SweetTARTS candy, police said. He was caught with more than $4000 cash, in addition to marijuana, DMT, and MDMA, among other drugs, prosecutors said.
A 21-year-old woman who said she was a "good friend" of Klein's, but asked not to be identified, said Klein and David were open about getting drugs for friends.
"We trust our friends because they’re willing to take a risk for people like me who don't want to deal with sketchy characters in Washington Heights and downtown," said the woman.
She also said she was going to warn her friends to "hide their sh-t" until the heat dies down.
"It's everywhere, it's not just these guys," she said about marijuana use. "That's pervasive, as for the harder drugs, it's on an individual basis, I would say not everybody does that stuff."
Some students said they were surprised by the bust, because the frats involved were known more for drinking than for drugs. "There are other frats with much druggier reputations," said one member of a bfrat not involved in the arrests who asked not to be identified.
Others said drug use is common on campus, and the five arrested students were just the unlucky few who happened to get busted.
"Like any other university there are people who use drugs," said a twenty-year-old student who said she knows three of the men arrested. "They were really good students; really involved on campus. It was just a stupid decision."
Undercover officers bought nearly $8,000 worth of marijuana, $1,000 each of cocaine and ecstasy and $440 in LSD from the students over the course of the investigation, police said.
The alleged drug ring came to light in part after the NYPD received multiple complaints on its CrimeStoppers hotline, officials said.
Three other people — Roberto Lagares, 30, of Brooklyn, and Megan Asper, 22, and Miron Sarzynski, 24, of the East Village — were arrested earlier and identified by police as the students' suppliers.
Asper and Sarzynski remained jailed at Rikers Island, according to the Department of Correction website. Asper was granted $10,000 bail and Sarzynski was granted $250,000 bail, but neither have posted bail yet, according to the website.
Lagares was arrested on Sunday and was being held at the Manhattan Correctional Facility in lower Manhattan, according to the Correction website.
When police raided the East 6th Street apartment shared by Asper and Sarzynski on Oct. 27, they allegedly found two dozen marijuana plants, and equipment to grow hydroponic pot and to manufacture a hallucinogenic chemical called DMT, police said. They also seized cash, liquid LSD in a bottle, and two air pistols, police said.
One of the alleged suppliers, Sarzynski, was hit with an added charge for allegedly trying to hire an undercover cop to kidnap rival drug dealers, torture them with a stun gun and an LSD overdose and then kill them if a ransom wasn't paid.
"The fact that a supplier to the Columbia students was willing to kill his rivals should demolish any argument that drugs on campus is a victimless crime," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement. "This is no way to work your way through college."
At the Psi Upsilon fraternity house Tuesday morning, where arrested student Adam Klein lived, a list of 10 agenda items from a meeting the night before was still sitting on a table in a common area.
Someone hand-wrote in an 11th item. "Don't sell drugs out of the frat house," it read. It was accompanied by another handwritten note, posted next to "Don't do anything stupid rule" under item No. 9: "Adam should have followed this rule."
Columbia University's spokesman would not comment directly on the arrests, but instead released a statement addressed to students, warning that "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."
The five Columbia students are being held on bail.