David and the four other students who were arrested weren’t running an organized drug ring so much as catering to various niches of the marketplace, police say, in a loosely coordinated way. David met Chris Coles freshman year, and Coles became a friend. He is African-American and grew up in the D.C. area. He studied philosophy and hung out with other black students and social activists. Friends say Coles seemed to struggle to make his tuition payments.
David and Coles both hung out with Stephan Vincenzo. Everyone knew Vincenzo; half-Mexican and half-Colombian, he was a high-fiver and backslapper. While getting a full ride as one of 1,000 Gates Millennium Scholars nationwide, he wrote poetry for the Spectator and worked as a model and party promoter. During freshman-orientation week, he invited his entire class, via Facebook, to a party that’s still talked about, and in time, his party-promoting business branched out around the city. “People used to laugh at the modeling,” a friend of Vincenzo’s says. He was parodied in the campus “Varsity Show” and had lighthearted stories written about his legend in a campus journal called The Fed. “It’s funny that everyone wants to know what I’m doing,” Vincenzo once joked. “But it comes with a price. I can’t drink, I can’t holla at a girl without everyone knowing what I did.” Vincenzo’s actual name is Jose Perez, but he wanted something flashier; Vincenzo is a nod to Al Capone. Despite his Gates money, Vincenzo had living expenses to pay for, and a role to play as a downtown impresario.
David thought of Adam Klein as something of a younger brother. A fencer from a middle-class family in New Jersey, Klein was studying neuroscience and hoped to become a doctor. Klein spent his summers working at a Dairy Queen; his mother is a fifth-grade teacher, and his father was recently laid off from a job selling art supplies. He was fascinated by LSD’s effect on brain chemistry and used some of his money to go to Bonnaroo, Rainbow Gathering, and Burning Man. Mike Wymbs is a fraternity brother of Klein’s. His father is an international-business professor at Baruch College, and his mother is a tax lawyer; they live on the Jersey shore at Beach Haven. Apparently the wealthiest of the five students, Wymbs, like David, was enrolled in the engineering school, where he maintained a 3.5 GPA. Majoring in applied math, he served as vice-president of the student council.
Each of the five students had his own tribe and allegedly worked his own niche. David moved into the AEP house, Coles lived in the Intercultural House, Vincenzo rushed Pi Kappa Alpha, Klein pledged to Psi Upsilon, and Wymbs lived in the East Campus high-rise dorm. Police say the students specialized in different products as well: David and Coles pot; Vincenzo pot, Adderall, and ecstasy; Klein LSD; Wymbs ecstasy and acid. Like Macy’s and Gimbels in Miracle on 34th Street, the five friends would allegedly send customers to one another now and then—but if this was a cartel, it was extremely low-key (no one has been charged with conspiracy). “It wasn’t like people were saying, ‘If you want this drug, go to this guy,’ ” says one customer. “You had to know in order to know.”
David says he got $37,000 in financial aid each of his first two years, but needed to pay $54,000 in tuition and living expenses. He closed some of that $17,000 gap each year with a combination of Stafford and private loans. Drug dealing helped close some of the rest of it. A campus dealer might buy an ounce of pot for $380 and sell it for $65 per eighth of an ounce bag, or $520 an ounce, netting $140 per ounce—if he didn’t smoke any of it himself. A hardworking dealer who moves, say, ten ounces a week could take home $1,000, or maybe $40,000 in the course of a school year. Still, all told, David tells me he currently owes as much as $50,000 in loans.
The spring of his sophomore year, friends say, David became more intense. “The consensus is that he had a coke personality,” says one source, “where you need that extra uninhibited push—because you don’t give a fuck.” On spring break, Harrison went to the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, staying in a suite at the Eden Roc resort with his friends, living large. “I can’t say a lot about what I did there,” he tells me, “but we made some money and had a lot of fun.”
Until then, a source says, David hadn’t been in the habit of selling outside his little circle. But he was exhilarated now, financially motivated, and ready to take some risks. “One guy he used to work with had a bit of a falling out with him over the summer,” says another source. “He was saying that Harrison wasn’t discreet.” In June, David found an apartment share for the summer in Hell’s Kitchen and started looking to buy some coke.