Columbia University Student Pleads Guilty to Drug Charge in New York Court

A Columbia University student arrested last year on drug charges pleaded guilty, accepting a deal with prosecutors.

Michael Wymbs of New York entered the plea today to third- degree attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance. He appeared before Justice Michael J. Sonberg of state Supreme Court in Manhattan. The plea will allow him to avoid a possible prison term of as long as 2 1/2 years in exchange for five years’ probation, under an offer by the district attorney’s office.

Sonberg last month refused to allow Wymbs and another defendant, Jose Stephan Perez of Atlanta, to enroll in a pretrial drug-treatment program. Prosecutors argued that none of the students was eligible because their sales of drugs were motivated by profit and not addiction.

“We still believe he should have had the opportunity to enter the diversion program and not be saddled with a felony conviction for the rest of his life,” Wymbs’s lawyer, Michael Bachner, said outside the courtroom after the hearing. Sentencing is set for Jan. 10.

Perez’s case and that of Adam Klein, 21, of Closter, New Jersey, were postponed today. Klein is seeking diversion to the treatment program.

A fourth defendant, Christopher Coles, 21, of Philadelphia, won permission from Sonberg to enter the program. He is to tell the court on Nov. 22 whether he’ll seek to enroll.

Delayed Decision

Coles on Nov. 1 was allowed to delay the decision after his attorney, Marc Agnifilo, said that the program, which can cost more than $20,000, would be a burden on his family and that he needed time to think it over.

“We are thankful that the court is giving Christopher this chance,” Agnifilo said by e-mail after the hearing, while citing the high cost of a program “to which the court says he is legally entitled under the new laws.”

The program, set up in 2009 as part of reform of the state’s so-called Rockefeller drug laws, allows judges to sentence some nonviolent offenders to treatment programs instead of incarceration.

The five students -- Wymbs, Perez, Klein, Coles and Harrison David, 21, of Wrentham, Massachusetts -- were arrested after a five-month investigation by the New York City police.

Prosecutors said undercover officers spent $11,000 buying drugs including cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and LSD-laced candy, with most sales taking place in common areas and bedrooms of three fraternities.

Guilty Plea

David pleaded guilty on July 19 to selling cocaine to an undercover officer in exchange for six months in jail and five years of probation.

The others faced sentences of as long as 2 1/2 years if convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, the most serious charge against each of them. All but David turned down plea agreements in June that would have placed them on five years’ probation.

The case is People v. David, 00038N/2011, New York state Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Cullen Wheatley in New York at cwheatley2@bloomberg.net; Chris Dolmetsch in New York at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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