NEW YORK – Five Columbia University students were charged Tuesday with selling LSD-spiked candy and other drugs at three fraternity houses and other residences on the Ivy League campus, with two allegedly claiming they needed the drug money to cover tuition.
Police arrested Christopher Coles, Harrison David, Adam Klein, Jose Stephen Perez and Michael Wymbs at dawn on Tuesday at the prestigious school in upper Manhattan.
The students — all 20-year-olds except Perez, who's 22 — were hauled into a Manhattan courtroom later in the day, shackled together and wearing Columbia and fraternity sweat shirts. They pleaded not guilty to multiple drug dealing charges alleging they were supplied by violent traffickers.
The five were to remain in custody until they could make bail ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 in cash.
Authorities called it one of the largest drug takedowns on a New York City college campus in recent memory.
The allegations go "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," school officials said in a letter to students. "Please rest assured we are taking this matter very seriously."
The arrest culminated a five-month probe — dubbed "Operation Ivy League" — that relied on a youthful undercover officer posing as a drug middleman for another college outside the city. Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said the officer paid nearly $11,000 for 31 purchases of LSD, marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription stimulants.
Authorities said most of the arrested students' customers were other students and friends buying smaller amounts for recreational use. The liquid LSD was sold in Altoids and SweeTarts.
The investigation led authorities to three traffickers in the East Village and Brooklyn, including one charged with plotting to kidnap rival dealers for ransom. The suspect allegedly tried to recruit a second undercover officer to use a stun gun on his victims and drug them with LSD.
The students sold drugs "to turn a quick profit, but subjected themselves to risks, of which they were either ignorant or in denial," Brennan said in a statement. "These students were playing with fire."
Prosecutors say Coles told arresting officers, "I just sell it to pay tuition." David — described as the initial target of the investigation — allegedly said the same, adding that his father "won't pay tuition."
Said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly: "This is no way to work your way through college."
In remarks in court, defense attorneys sketched brief profiles of their clients: David as a junior engineering student and son of a Massachusetts doctor; Coles a junior majoring in anthropology and political science and working as a counselor; Klein the son of a Tenafly, N.J., schoolteacher mother and recently laid-off father; Wymbs a senior engineering and life-sciences student applying to graduate school; and Perez a scholarship student and published poet.
A story last year in "Blue and White," Columbia's monthly magazine, described Perez as "the monarch of social butterflies" and operator of a party production called 11th Floor Entertainment.
In the story, Perez, who also goes by Stephan Vincenzo, reflected on how childhood friends in Atlanta "got involved heavily with drugs, a lot of my friends dropped out of school, ended up in jail, ended up in gangs."
Klein's fraternity, Psi Upsilon, planned to launch a review to determine if Columbia's chapter should be penalized, said its executive director, Mark Williams.
Associated Press Writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.