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Final plea in NY drug ring case on Columbia campus

By Jennifer Peltz
Associated Press / January 17, 2012
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NEW YORK—A student accused of selling LSD at Columbia University pleaded guilty Tuesday to attempted drug possession, resolving the last case in a takedown of a drug ring on the Ivy League campus.

Adam Klein was the last of five students to plead guilty in the case, which authorities called the biggest move in recent memory against drug dealing at a New York City college. The case, unveiled in December 2010, spurred discussion of student drug use and how to weigh questions of promise, privilege and punishment in places from the New York Post's editorial page to an essay on Time magazine's website.

Klein, 21, is expected to get five years' probation at sentencing, which is scheduled for Feb. 28.

The students formed a loose-knit network that sold drugs ranging from marijuana to Ecstasy to cocaine out of dorm rooms and fraternity houses, with each student specializing in certain drugs, according to city Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan's office. An undercover officer bought more than $11,000 worth of drugs from the group over five months, prosecutors said.

Lawyers for several of the students, including Klein, portrayed them as talented young men who got derailed by drug problems in college. Klein became addicted to marijuana and other drugs that took a severe toll on him academically, according to his lawyer, Alan Abramson. Klein is currently in drug treatment, Abramson said.

Klein and three of the other students asked a court for a chance at wiping their records clean by completing court-supervised rehabilitation, a legal option granted to more than 1,000 people statewide each year. The fifth student wasn't eligible because he faced more serious charges related to cocaine sales.

A court turned down all but one of the students, Christopher Coles, 21, who began treatment earlier this month after admitting he sold more than a pound of marijuana to an undercover officer. His lawyer said the sales were an attempt to finance the anthropology major's own $70-to-$100-a-day pot habit.

For the rest of the students, the outcomes have ranged from probation and community service to jail time.

The engineering student who faced the cocaine charges and was the investigation's initial target, Harrison David, 21, served a six-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to a cocaine-selling charge.

Jose Stephan Perez, a published poet who won the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship, pleaded guilty to a felony attempted drug possession charge. Perez, 21, also known as Stephan Vincenzo, had been accused mainly of selling the prescription stimulant Adderall. But Perez, whose lawyer said the student struggled with social pressures in college and began smoking marijuana as many as five times a day, will be allowed to withdraw his plea and plead guilty instead to a drug misdemeanor in a year if he meets conditions including 300 hours of community service.

Michael Wymbs, an engineering major initially charged with selling LSD and Ecstasy, was sentenced last week to five years' probation after pleading guilty to attempted drug possession. Wymbs, 23, was treated for depression in college and grappled with drug use and heavy drinking, his lawyer said in court papers.

Wymbs is now studying at the City University of New York, his lawyer, Michael Bachner, told a judge last week.

Columbia has declined to comment on the students' current status, citing educational privacy laws.

Three off-campus suppliers charged in the case also have pleaded guilty.

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