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Southbound Traffic

Was it spring break -- or a drug run?

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Illicit moonlighting jobs are nothing new for college students -- strip-club advertisements touting co-eds "working their way through college" have become an adult-entertainment-industry cliché. But some local students at art schools such as FIT and SVA have been picking up a little spare cash by far more dangerous and illegal means: making drug runs to Jamaica. (There is no evidence that either school is aware or involved.)

One undergrad who arranged to make a drug run but balked at the last minute claims, "I know three other students who've made the trip." And he says he knows of a handful of students who've worked as Caribbean-bound drug runners more than once. According to sources, students, who hear about the operation through word of mouth, sit down with an innocuous-looking young man representing a drug distributor (the first source says he was referred to the point man by a fellow student). Potential drug runners are purposely kept in the dark about whom they will be working for, and meetings to discuss details of the trip are arranged on neutral turf (in the case of the first source, popular East Village restaurant 7A). To avoid suspicion, students are told, they must travel to Jamaica in male-female couples, dressed as squeaky-clean tourists. They are given airfare from New York to Jamaica and booked into a hotel near the resort town of Negril, where a contact supplies them with, according to another source, "all the weed to smoke and all the money you need." Meanwhile, the carrier's bags are packed "full of presents you would have bought for friends at home, in order to throw Customs off."

The drugs -- hash, according to the first source, though he admits he "had trouble believing that," considering that trafficking in hashish is far less profitable than doing so in cocaine or heroin -- are packed into a clock radio. Then the couple make a return trip to Cleveland, where Customs officials are supposedly more lax. From Cleveland, they are flown back to New York, where their tickets reflect only a Cleveland-New York itinerary.

College students are lured into making the trip by the promise of an all-expenses-paid, Club Med-type experience. "We were told about all the fun aspects of our trip -- snorkeling, scuba diving, waterfalls," says one source. And as with the package vacations offered by Club Med, students are given the option of a Thursday-to-Sunday or Sunday-to-Wednesday trip. The presentation is made more palatable by the representative himself, described by one source as "preppy, in his twenties; not gross or shady." Not surprisingly, sources say that there is no mention of the legal consequences of such a trip -- or assurances of help if they're caught.

The carrier is promised around $1,200 for the trip, and the person accompanying the carrier receives approximately $500. While that may sound like big money to a 20-year-old, consider that New York's mandatory-minimum Rockefeller drug laws punish those convicted of possession of just four ounces of a narcotic with a prison term of fifteen years to life.


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