3rd student pleads guilty in Columbia drug case

AP News
Posted: Dec 20, 2011 3:37 PM
3rd student pleads guilty in Columbia drug case

A Columbia University student accused of selling a prescription stimulant as part of a campus drug-dealing ring pleaded guilty Tuesday in an agreement that may spare him jail time and a felony record.

Jose Stephan Perez, a published poet who held a prestigious scholarship when he and four fellow students were arrested last year, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony attempted drug possession charge. He'll be allowed to withdraw that plea and plead guilty to a drug misdemeanor in a year if he performs 300 hours of community service, passes monthly drug tests and avoids getting arrested again.

His lawyer, Peter M. Frankel, said the plea was "the appropriate outcome."

Meanwhile, another student in the case, Christopher Coles, was jailed without bail Tuesday after authorities said he'd failed a drug test.

Perez, 21, who also is known as Stephan Vincenzo, was charged mainly with selling Adderall, a prescription amphetamine sometimes coveted as a study aid. The city Special Narcotics Prosecutor's office said he sometimes did deals in the campus library and was part of a loose-knit but prolific group of students who sold drugs ranging from marijuana to LSD-spiked candy from dorm rooms and fraternity houses.

Frankel painted a portrait in court papers of a young man who set his sights on going to Columbia at 13 and strove to get the grades and financial aid to realize his dream _ snagging a spot as one of the 1,000 Gates Millennium Scholars named nationwide each year _ but was battered by social pressures as soon as he got to campus. Eager to jump-start a social life, Perez invited the entire freshman class online to a social event, a gesture that moved some students to scorn him on blogs and mock him in a campus show, Frankel wrote in a filing earlier this year.

Although Perez joined a fraternity, worked a campus job and got involved in various Latino student groups and other activities, he also began smoking marijuana as many as five times a day, a habit he financed by selling Adderall he'd been prescribed, his lawyer wrote.

Since his arrest, Perez has been in counseling, has spoken about his experience to students at his former high school in Marietta, Ga., and has taught younger students in the Bahamas, where his mother works as a marine biologist, his lawyer said.

Columbia has declined to comment on the students' current status. The Gates Millennium Scholars program has deferred his scholarship, a spokeswoman said.

Perez was the third to plead guilty among five students arrested in the case, which authorities described as one of the biggest crackdowns on college drug dealing in the city in recent memory. It prompted examinations of the undercurrent of drugs in college life in media outlets including Time magazine's website.

The engineering student who faced the most serious charges, Harrison David, served a six-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to a cocaine charge. Michael Wymbs, an engineering major initially charged with selling LSD and Ecstasy, pleaded guilty last month to attempted drug possession and was promised five years' probation.

The student who was jailed Tuesday, anthropology major Christopher Coles, remains on track to resolve his case by spending at least a year living in a drug-abuse treatment center. He was charged with selling as much as a pound of marijuana; his lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said the student was selling the drug to finance a $70-to-$100-a-day pot-smoking habit. A judge agreed to give Coles what's known as diversion to treatment, an opportunity extended to more than 1,000 people statewide each year.

Agnifilo didn't immediately return a call after court Tuesday. Coles and the fifth student, Adam Klein, have pleaded not guilty.

Three off-campus suppliers charged in the case have pleaded guilty to drug charges.


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