96 arrested in San Diego State drug bust
Seven fraternity houses were infiltrated in a six-month undercover investigation, and widespread drug-dealing was found, authorities say.
By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 6, 2008
SAN DIEGO — Ninety-six people have been arrested, including 75 students, after an extensive undercover drug investigation centering on San Diego State, the district attorney's office announced today.
Undercover agents infiltrated the university's fraternity houses and allegedly discovered evidence of widespread drug-dealing. The drugs included marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy. Most of the marijuana was grown locally, not in Mexico, officials said.
The investigation, called Operation Sudden Fall, began a year ago after an overdose by a female student at the university, authorities said.
About six months ago, young-looking agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and police officers from other jurisdictions began going to fraternity parties and struck up faux friendships. Many of the sales were made via text messages sent to student dealers, officials said. At least one of the undercover officers was a woman.
"This operation shows 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," said San Diego County Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis.
During the investigation, a second student, at San Diego Mesa College, died of a cocaine overdose after a party at a fraternity house.
Some 130 drug purchases were made during the investigation. None of the arrests was linked to the students' deaths, officials said at a news conference.
One of the non-students arrested today was connected to a gang in Pacoima, said Ralph W. Partridge, a special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego.
San Diego State President Stephen Weber said he did not hesitate to allow undercover officers on campus. As for those responsible for drug-dealing, he said, "If we find that the fraternities as organizations were involved, they will be kicked off campus."
Several members of the Theta Chi and Phi Kappa Psi fraternities were arrested.
Weber said he did not care if his decisions sparked faculty ire.
"We did the right thing," he said. "I think, frankly, more universities should step up and take these kinds of actions."
On the sprawling campus of 34,000 students, word of the drug busts spread rapidly. Many students expressed shock, but said that drug use is widespread.
"I'm surprised more people aren't caught or get hurt," said Adam Klein, 23, a business major and member of the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, which was not implicated. "This looks bad for the whole Greek system."
Angela Beckwith, 22, a child development major, said the arrests "are a shocker but not really a surprise. Lots of people are using."
One alleged dealer was just a month away from earning a master's degree in homeland security and had worked with the campus police as a security officer, officials said. Another student who was arrested on suspicion of possession of cocaine and two guns was a criminal justice major, officials said.
Kenneth Ciaccio, 19, a member of the Theta Chi fraternity, allegedly sent out a mass text-message to "faithful customers," saying that he was traveling to Las Vegas and would not be able to make his normal cocaine sales, the DEA said.
Late last year, Ciaccio was lauded in an online publication of the university's public relations department. In the wake of his arrest, the university has taken that publication down.
According to the DEA, the evidence includes 4 pounds of cocaine, 50 pounds of marijuana, 48 hydroponic marijuana plants, 350 Ecstasy pills, psilocybin (mushrooms), 30 vials of hash oil, methamphetamine, various illicit prescription drugs, a shotgun, three semiautomatic pistols, three brass knuckles and $60,000 in cash. Officials put the value of the drugs seized at more than $100,000.
"Our children are our biggest asset and, absent a safe, drug-free learning environment, their chances of succeeding are greatly diminished," Partridge said. "The university police and SDSU administration are to be commended for their swift actions in confronting the drug-use problem on campus."