May 6, 2008 -- Police have arrested 96 people – 75 of them students – in the largest campus drug bust in the country at San Diego State University, law enforcement sources say.
Police picked up the individuals for charges stemming from possession and sales of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and other drugs, which Damon Mosler, chief of narcotics for the San Diego District Attorney's Office, estimated was worth approximately $100,000.
In addition to criminal charges, SDSU students arrested were immediately suspended from the university and evicted from all campus-managed housing, said the president of the university, Stephen Weber.
Authorities say among those arrested was a student who was a criminal justice major and was found with 500 grams of cocaine and two guns. Another suspect worked as an employee of the campus police and was one month away from graduating with a masters degree in Homeland Security.
Ralph Partridge, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency's San Diego division, said that "the sad part" was that the student graduating with a masters degree in Homeland Security asked "whether it would have an effect on [his] being a federal law enforcement officer."
As part of the investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency and San Diego State University police say they infiltrated seven fraternities on campus, finding that most or all of the members were aware of the drug dealing activity in their organizations.
Law enforcement sources gave one example of a fraternity member who sent a text message to his "faithful customers," alerting them that he and his "associates" were headed to Las Vegas for a few days and would be unavailable for transactions – but in the message he allegedly sent, he mentioned "sale" prices on cocaine.
Mosler said that such text messaging suggested a "level of sophistication" as well as the "business nature" of what the students were doing, which did not characterize typical student drug dealing. Theta Chi, the fraternity which police believe was selling cocaine, will be charged with the sale and possession of drugs and possible charges for possession of firearms.
The crackdown by the DEA and San Diego State University police came after two accidental cocaine overdoses on campus in the past year. Weber said in today's press conference that the investigation targeting drug trafficking in and around the campus was conceived and initiated by the university, which solicited the help of the DEA.
"We were beginning to see some evidence that there was trafficking on our campus," the university president said at a press conference today. "Some of these drugs were emanating from our own campus community and we wanted to understand that and deal with it."
The initial undercover operation, dubbed "Operation Sudden Fall," began after a female student died from a cocaine overdose in 2007. The death of this student was unrelated to the individuals arrested today but promoted law enforcement to take action, said the university's chief of police, John Browning. Law enforcement sources also said that in February, while the operation was under way, an SDSU student died from an accidental overdose of cocaine in a fraternity house.
Police served nine search warrants; evidence recovered included four pounds of cocaine, 50 pounds of marijuana, marijuana plants and other assorted drugs including ecstasy pills, mushrooms, hash oil, methamphetamine and prescription drugs.
Additionally, police say they found a shotgun, three semi-automatic pistols, brass knuckles and $60,000 cash. Law enforcement confirmed that investigations related to the firearms were ongoing and could not provide further detail at this time.