Thursday, May 8, 2008


Nearly 100 people suspected of involvement in a recently exposed drug
ring at San Diego State University were arrested this week, ending a
months-long undercover sting operation that revealed a network of
illicit substance distribution and purchase within and around the campus.

Officials said a total of 96 people have been arrested in connection
with the case, 75 of whom are students. Investigators have reported
confiscating up to $100,000 worth of cocaine, marijuana, Ecstasy and
illicit prescription drugs. A number of weapons - including a shotgun
and three semiautomatic pistols - and $60,000 in cash were also
seized as evidence, authorities said.

"This operation shows how accessible and pervasive illegal drugs
continue to be on our college campuses, and how common it is for
students to be selling to other students," San Diego County District
Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis said in a statement.

Of those arrested, about 20 were suspected of involvement in drug
sales, officials said. The rest were individuals suspected of having
purchased drugs from members within the drug operation.

Authorities also confirmed that one suspect, Omar Castaneda, 36, is a
documented gang member who may have connections to Mexican drug
cartels. Officials said Castaneda may have received his supply of
cocaine from Mexico and members of the cartel.

Campus police, along with the Federal Drug Enforcement
Administration, began the investigation, dubbed "Operation Sudden
Fall," last year in response to a student's death by cocaine overdose
on campus in May 2007. The death of a second student on campus, also
from a cocaine overdose, in February 2008 prompted authorities to
step up their efforts.

"This investigation spotlights two tragedies," DEA Special Agent in
Charge Ralph W. Partridge said in a statement. "The tragic drug
overdose deaths of two college students and secondly, the shattered
futures of those students who choose to continue to engage in the
illicit sale and usage of a myriad of controlled substances."

The investigation targeted seven campus fraternities and led to the
arrest of several members of the Theta Chi and Phi Kappa Psi
fraternities. Officials said that, in some fraternities, nearly all
of the members were aware of the drug sales conducted by members from
within their own fraternity houses.

Throughout the investigation, authorities conducted over 130 separate
undercover purchases and seizures. According to officials, undercover
agents regularly purchased cocaine from fraternity members over the
course of the investigation. An official report from the San Diego
District Attorney's office stated 19 arrest warrants were issued for
students who had sold drugs to undercover DEA agents.

Authorities said several of the arrested individuals sent out mass
text messages advertising drug sales over the last few months. In one
case, Kenneth Ciaccio, 19, a member of the Theta Chi fraternity, sent
a mass text message to a group he referred to as his "faithful
customers," informing them he and his associates would be unable to
sell cocaine for a weekend while in Las Vegas. He also wrote that
they would be having a "sale" on cocaine and listed the reduced
prices in the message.

The investigation saw a total of nine search warrants issued for
houses and apartments on and around the campus, including the Theta
Chi fraternity house.

Students arrested in the raid have been suspended and those residing
in university-managed housing have been evicted, campus officials
said. None of those arrested will be allowed to attend classes or
take final exams until all necessary legal proceedings have been completed.

In addition, campus officials announced Tuesday that six fraternities
- Phi Kappa Psi, Theta Chi, Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Kappa Theta, Sigma
Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Mu - have been suspended until further
investigation into their involvement with the drug ring is completed.

SDSU President Stephen L. Weber, who requested DEA assistance in the
case upon learning of the scale of the drug ring early in the
investigation, commended the efforts of investigators in a statement
Tuesday and said that the bust reveals a larger national narcotics problem.

"Certainly today's arrests underscore the scope of the challenges
universities face as we fight this major societal problem," Weber
said. "We are determined to remove people from our community who have
placed our students at risk, and to see that they are turned over to
the criminal justice system. Today's arrests are a big step forward
toward a safer environment for our students, faculty, staff and neighbors."

UCSD Chief of Police Orville King said that while no evidence that a
drug operation of the magnitude witnessed at SDSU might exist at
UCSD, any indication of such activity could produce a similar
response that involves federal enforcement agencies.

"It would be naive to think that drug violations are not occurring on
our campus, but we haven't witnessed anything that would indicate an
operation of the scale at SDSU," King said. "In order to conduct an
[investigation] like that, you have to have information or
intelligence that indicates that something like that is occurring. If
we had information that led us to believe that activity like that was
occurring on campus, then we would consider that kind of action and
possibly with the involvement of an outside agency."

Newshawk: Herb
Pubdate: Thu, 8 May 2008
Source: Guardian, The (U of CA, San Diego, CA Edu)
Copyright: 2008 UCSD Guardian.
Author: Reza Farazmand

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