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Cop Busted for Gambling Den Helped Crack Columbia Drug Ring, Sources Say

By Murray Weiss | June 6, 2011 2:59pm | Updated on June 7, 2011 10:51am

By Murray Weiss

DNAinfo Contributing Columnist

MANHATTAN — The NYPD detective arrested by the feds last week for running a high-stakes gambling operation was a key undercover cop involved in the recent arrests of Manhattan drug traffickers and a handful of Columbia University students, sources said.

Det. Richard Palase, 46, a 15 year NYPD veteran, was arrested Thursday and charged by the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney with being the ringleader of a gambling operation in several storefronts on Staten Island that took in at least $6,000 every day.

Palase was allegedly running the lucrative card rooms apparently at the same time he was working undercover for the NYPD acting as a smooth and convincing dope dealer in an investigation dubbed "Operation Ivy League" by the NYPD and prosecutors.

Palase was so convincing playing the part of a criminal that Miron Sarzynski, the off-campus ringleader, allegedly approached Palase to abduct and execute a rival drug dealer who Sarzynski believed had ripped him off of $4,000, sources said.

Sarzynski allegedly wanted Palase to kidnap the rival, torture him by feeding him LSD and then collect a ransom.

Sazynski, and his girlfriend, Megan Asper, were charged as being the major dealers to the Columbia students. They were arrested last Oct. 27 in Sarzynski's East Village apartment. Roberto Lagares, another alleged supplier, was arrested a few day later in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

During the NYPD sting, undercover cops allegedly purchased nearly $11,000 worth of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, Adderall and LSD, from the student Chris Coles, Harrison David, Adam Klein and Joseph Stephen Perez, all 20, and Michael Wymbs, 22, between last July and December.

The students were arrested at university frat houses and dorm rooms back in December. A couple of them said they sold drugs to raise money for tuition.

"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 Kelly said at the time in a news release. "This is no way to work your way through college."

Sources say Palase's role in the buying and selling of drugs with the five Columbia University students was "minor" compared to his pivotal role snaring the violent trio of off-campus dealers.

Following Palase arrest — along with two city firemen who were card dealers —the NYPD declined to provide information about Palase's undercover work.

There is no way to determine what impact his arrest will have on the Columbia students' cases, which are still pending, or any other undercover operations in which he was involved.

The trio of alleged off-campus drug dealers – Sarzynski, Asper anad Lagares – has already pleaded guilty.

Murray Weiss writes a weekly column for DNAinfo. He is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, columnist and editor, and is considered an expert on government, law enforcement, criminal justice, organized crime and terrorism.