Jose Stephan Perez, one of five Columbia University students arrested a year ago and accused of selling drugs on campus, pleaded guilty to a felony count of drug possession.
The 21-year-old Atlanta resident pleaded guilty today in Manhattan before Justice Michael Sonberg of state Supreme Court, who in October rejected a request to allow Perez into a pretrial diversion program. Perez will be able to withdraw his plea and plead to a misdemeanor charge if he completes 300 hours of community service in a year and stays out of trouble, the judge said.
Prosecutors said undercover officers, in a five-month investigation nicknamed “Operation Ivy League,” 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. Perez was accused of selling Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“We’ve very pleased,” Perez’s attorney, Peter Frankel, told reporters outside court today. “But we also think that’s the appropriate outcome. He is the only defendant who was charged with selling his lawful prescription, not illicit drugs like cocaine or ecstacy.”
Perez is the third of the five arrested students to plead guilty in the case.
Harrison David, 21, of Wrentham, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in July to selling cocaine to an undercover officer in exchange for six months in jail and five years of probation. He began serving his prison term on Aug. 30.
Michael Wymbs, 23, of New York, pleaded guilty last month to third-degree attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to five years’ probation. Sonberg last week rejected a request by a fourth student, Adam Klein, 21, of Closter, New Jersey, to enter into a pretrial diversion program.
The fifth student, Christopher Coles, 21, of Philadelphia, was ordered to return to jail today after testing positive for marijuana, said Kati Cornell, a spokeswoman for the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office.
Coles was granted entry into the pretrial diversion program last month. His attorney, Marc Agnifilo, didn’t return a message left at his office seeking comment.
The diversion program, set up in 2009 as part of a reform of the state’s so-called Rockefeller drug laws, allows judges to divert some nonviolent offenders to treatment programs instead of incarceration.
Perez will be volunteering with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence on East 58th Street and living in New York with an aim of returning to school, said Frankel. Perez was a Gates Millennium Scholar, one of 1,000 students each year whose college tuition is paid for with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The case is People v. David, 00038N/2011, New York state Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).