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The Columbia Kid


A week later, on October 27, Rob drove to Sarzynski’s building on East 6th Street and asked him to come outside with a bottle of LSD. It was 11:10 a.m. About ten minutes later, Sarzynski came out and handed him the bottle.

“I bagged those two last night,” Rob said.

“You’re kidding me!” Sarzynski said.

“You gotta be my lookout,” Rob told him. “We’re going to their place.”

“But they’ll see me!”

“No they won’t. You just have to wait outside.”

Sarzynski got even more excited. “Okay. I had a dream last night we got them.”

Then came the police. They cuffed Sarzynski and Rob, too, maintaining Rob’s cover, and shoved them both into a police van. Inside, Sarzynski kept talking. “If they go to my apartment, I’m fucked,” he told Rob. “I got weed growing, my girlfriend is there, I got acid. I’m going to give up everybody.”

The police raided the apartment and brought out Megan Asper.

“Oh, good,” she said when she saw Rob. “I thought you were a cop.”

With Sarzynski locked up, Operation Ivy League continued through November. Using John and, perhaps, some other undercovers, police say they fanned out and made buys from all five of the accused students. Coles led them to Vincenzo, they say, then Vincenzo to Wymbs and Klein. In November, the cops say they bought LSD from Klein twice (sixteen acid-laced candies in all), ecstasy, pot, and Adderall from Vincenzo, mollys (ecstasy in powder form) four times from Wymbs, pot twice from Coles, and pot three more times from David.

On December 5, police picked up David’s other alleged supplier, Roberto Lagares, near where he lived in the Kingsborough Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Two days later, on the Tuesday before the end of fall classes, they rolled down Fraternity Row at dawn, surging up 114th Street, clogging the stairwells of four Columbia apartment buildings, pounding through doors, and walking away with a supermarket of acid-laced candy, four bottles of LSD, scales, ecstasy, Adderall, pot, and $7,200 in cash. The busts weren’t without glitches—they got Klein’s room at Psi-U wrong, because he’d traded rooms with someone on his floor. For a moment, frat brothers have been heard saying, the wrong man had an NYPD gun pointed in his face.

To some at Columbia, the arrests seemed arbitrary, or worse. The semiotics of the term “Operation Ivy League” were an endless source of discussion. Was the NYPD indicting the whole university in a class-tinged ploy for publicity? Coles reportedly complained that when they were taking Vincenzo out, they made him wear a Columbia sweatshirt for the benefit of the news cameras. Others said Columbia, with its considerable political clout, should have stopped the busts and handled the matter on-campus. “How could they have allowed it to escalate to this point?” wondered a close friend of one of the arrested students. Some started speaking of the arrested students as scapegoats, martyrs, even causes célèbres—“the Columbia Five.” Some say the drug business has slowed on-campus. “No one trusts anyone,” one student told me. Others say that’s not so. “There’s more bowls of pot to fill now,” says one former customer. “And I already know people who are filling them.”

Typical bail in a first-time nonviolent drug offense is usually around $5,000. But David got $75,000, Coles $40,000, Klein and Wymbs $35,000, and Vincenzo $30,000. A few of their lawyers privately floated conspiracy theories—not just that Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Michael Sonberg wanted to make an example of some Columbia kids but that the judge was feeling political pressure because of a case from a few weeks earlier. In November, Sonberg had granted a crack dealer named Lawrence Elliot a month to care for his sick dad before entering prison, and two days later he allegedly raped and robbed a City College student. “In hindsight, the judge deeply regrets the outcome,” a spokesperson for the court had said. The D.A., one of the students’ lawyers told me, “hung him out to dry on that.”

At the end of the day, it was almost certainly David’s carelessness, or at least his bad luck, that led to the arrests. “The rest of the guys were selling to their friends at very little profit,” says a close friend of another one of the arrested students. But David, the source says, had tried to go beyond that. Had David not stepped up the level of his enterprise or run into Sarzynski, it’s unlikely the police and Columbia would have ever been involved, however opportunistic or unprotective their subsequent actions may have been.

Five days after my visit, on Monday, December 20, Harrison David’s father came through with the bail money, and David was released. It’s likely that he and the others will receive plea-bargain offers from the D.A.—although David, the only one charged with a class-A felony, may find it hard to avoid significant jail time. The reforms of the Rockefeller drug laws allow for judges and the D.A. to offer reduced sentences. But the high visibility of this situation means that won’t happen easily. “This is not a typical case,” says one lawyer close to the matter. “You’re not exactly calling the D.A. and saying, ‘Come on, what’s the offer?’ ” Coles and Klein were seen packing up their rooms at Columbia, and it’s assumed the others have moved out too. The university has yet to take action on the five students’ enrollment status.


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