NEW YORK – A Columbia University junior at the heart of a drug takedown at the Ivy League school agreed Tuesday to go to jail for selling cocaine, while four fellow students pressed a court to give them a shot at treatment instead of time behind bars.
Harrison David pleaded guilty to a felony drug-sale charge, acknowledging he sold cocaine to an undercover officer outside David's off-campus apartment last August. That was one of a slate of cocaine- and marijuana-dealing accusations against David, who was the initial target of a five-month investigation that spawned charges against the students and three off-campus suppliers.
David, 20, is expected to get six months in jail and five years on probation at an Aug. 30 sentencing. He didn't elaborate beyond yes-or-no answers to a judge's questions as he entered his guilty plea.
"He is taking responsibility for it," his lawyer, Matthew Myers, said afterward. "He's not disgruntled about the result.
"He has huge regrets about it because now he's blown an Ivy League education," the lawyer said. "But at some point, you have to try to move on."
David, an engineering major from the Boston area, faced the most serious charges among the students in the case. The others — Christopher Coles, 21; Adam Klein, 21; Michael Wymbs, 22; and Jose Stephan Perez, 20, also known as Stephan Vincenzo — have pleaded not guilty. They are seeking a drug-abuse treatment option that could ultimately get their charges dismissed or reduced to misdemeanors.
Together, the five formed a loose-knit but wide-ranging drug ring that operated out of dorms and fraternity houses and offered everything from marijuana to prescription pills to LSD-spiked candy, city Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan's office said. Each sold different drugs or combinations of them, and some led customers to one another for requests, authorities said. Ultimately, undercover officers bought a total of about $11,000 worth of various drugs from the students, prosecutors said.
David and Coles initially told officers they were selling drugs to pay tuition, authorities said in a court document.
David rejected a plea deal last month that would have entailed a year in state prison. His lawyer called that prospect too harsh for a student who was "respectful, has a very bright future" and hasn't been incarcerated before.
Assistant Special Narcotics Prosecutor William Nowak said the six-month deal was "in the interest of justice," noting that it calls for five years of probation, rather than the two initially proposed.
With good behavior, David could be released after about four months behind bars.
Until David's sentencing, he remains free on bail in Florida, where he's staying with an uncle who is a retired correctional officer, Myers said. David is suspended from Columbia and expects to be expelled, his lawyer said. A university spokesman declined to comment.
The other students are awaiting a judge's ruling on their bid for what's known as "diversion" to treatment. Their lawyers filed papers Tuesday to further their efforts.
Diversion is intended for people whose addictions drive their crimes. The four students' lawyers have said they had substance-abuse problems.
They have rejected no-jail plea deals.
The three non-students arrested in the case — Megan Asper, 22; Roberto Lagares, 31; and Miron Sarzynski, 24 — have pleaded guilty to drug charges. Sarzynski also pleaded guilty to attempted kidnapping for a plot to abduct some rival dealers.
Lagares and Sarzynski have been sentenced to six years in prison, while Asper got 45 days in jail.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz
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