Scores of San Diego State University students are rounded up in a sweeping drug bust.
During finals week of the spring semester, 95 San Diego State University students— and 30 others—were arrested on assorted drug-related charges in a series of raids conducted by federal and local lawenforcement agencies. The roundup culminated a year-long undercover sting operation targeting dealers and buyers at SDSU, particularly members of several fraternities.
At the residences of students and non- SDSU-affiliated individuals, investigators confiscated up to $100,000 worth of cocaine, marijuana, Ecstasy, psylocibin mushrooms, illicit prescription drugs and other substances. They also seized $60,000 in cash and various weapons, including a shotgun and three semiautomatic pistols.
According to the District Attorney’s Office of San Diego County, 54 SDSU students were arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, who suspected a direct connection to the originally targeted traffickers. The remaining 41 were arrested by campus police officers for minor offenses uncovered between January and May 2008. Officials said these suspects were not necessarily connected to the drug ring, but were arrested in accordance with the university’s zero-tolerance drug policy.
The D.A.’s office also noted that one student apprehended in the raids—Omar Castaneda- Arce, 36—is a documented gang member with suspected ties to Mexican drug cartels. Officials also said that the suspect had served three years in prison for a previous drug offense. Searching Castaneda-Arce’s home, investigators reportedly discovered a kilogram of cocaine.
Campus police and the DEA initiated the undercover investigation, dubbed Operation Sudden Fall, in response to an SDSU coed’s death by cocaine overdose in May 2007. When a San Diego Mesa College student succumbed to oxycodone and alcohol poisoning at an SDSU fraternity in February 2008, authorities were prompted to step up their efforts.
“This investigation spotlights two tragedies,” said the DEA’s Special Agent in Charge, Ralph W. Partridge. “The tragic drug overdose deaths of two college students and, secondly, the shattered futures of those students who choose to engage in the illicit sale and usage of myriad controlled substances.”
During Operation Sudden Fall, DEA agents posing as students made more than 130 separate drug transactions with members of SDSU fraternities, and several members of Theta Chi and Phi Kappa Psi were among those arrested. Officials said that in some fraternities, nearly all of the members were aware that drug sales were being conducted within their own frat houses.
Two days after the raids, SDSU suspended six fraternities—Theta Chi, Phi Kappa Psi, Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Kappa Theta, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Mu—pending further investigation.
On the day of the bust, SDSU President Stephen L. Weber announced: “Certainly today’s arrests underscore the scope of the challenges universities face as we fight this major societal problem.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.”
Although Weber publicly hailed the arrests as a victory for San Diego State University, others have called the investigation unnecessary and ultimately ineffective. Following Operation Sudden Fall’s highly publicized conclusion, some campus groups have raised concerns over its impact on university life.
At a rally prompted by the raids, members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy—a national awareness organization committed to reducing the harms caused by drug abuse and drug policies— criticized the undercover operation. Randy Hencken, president of the organization’s SDSU chapter, believes the bust will likely have little effect on student drug use in the long run.
“We’ve seen those big piles of drugs and money on our TV screens before, over and over again, for the past three decades, and the availability of drugs has not changed,” Hencken proclaimed. “So long as students have the desire to use illegal drugs, and so long as the prohibition of drugs sustains a lucrative black market, drug stings will do little more than create openings for others to step in and supply these drugs.”
Reza Farazmand is a University of California, San Diego junior majoring in political science and is news editor of the school’s student-run newspaper, The Guardian.
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