Reporting Irene Cornell
NEW YORK (CBS 2/WCBS 880/1010 WINS) – Did the high cost of college tuition encourage a group of Columbia University students to deal drugs?
Walking with their heads hanging low, five students were arrested Tuesday.
And at least two of them told undercover cops they sold drugs to help pay for tuition, reports CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.
Tuition, fees, room and board at Columbia tops $55,000 a year and during the semester-long undercover “Operation Ivy League” some of the defendants justified selling drugs as a way to afford college,” police said.
WCBS 880′s Irene Cornell reports
Tuesday on campus some students told Aiello they can sympathize.
“College is expensive, so I can kind of see something like that happening. I mean not everybody has a lot of money to pay for college,” one student said.
Police said that’s the story they got from several of the alleged Columbia drug dealers.
The operation was based on West 114th Street — Columbia’s “fraternity row.” Investigators said the defendants turned several frat houses into a virtual drug supermarket.
“The most surprising aspect was the openness of the drug dealing. It appeared to have been done very cavalierly. In addition, there was a wide range of drugs,” NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said.
Brennan said it included cocaine, marijuana, Ecstasy, prescription Adderall and LSD, sold in liquid form. Brennan told 1010 WINS the investigation started as a result of “some community complaints” and said “there were leads we developed from other investigations.”
The students also worked independent of each other, Brennan said. “Each one seemed to specialize in a particular controlled substance or narcotic,” she said.
“And these individuals were actually making quite a bit of money at it,” Brennan said.
Undercover cops bought $11,000 worth of drugs from students Chris Coles, Harrison David, Adam Klein, Jose Stephan Perez and Michael Wymbs. 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.
“They’re very good guys, and I’m sad that it happened here,” one student said.
On campus many expressed shock at the arrests. One student came to the defense of LSD peddler Klein.
“He’s very smart. He’s always really kind, and very hospitable,” Aliya Zlotkin said.
Also arrested were several alleged suppliers who lived off campus, including 23-year-old Miron Sarzynski. Investigators said cops who raided his Lower East Side apartment found bottles of LSD in a Gucci box and high-quality pot plants under “grow lights.”
That alleged supplier was also busted for trying to hire an undercover cop to torture someone who owed him money.
Police said these Columbia students were dealing with very unsavory characters and because the drugs came from Mexico they were in a small way helping to fuel the drug violence there.
Said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly: “This is no way to work your way through college.”