Operation Ivy League Hearing: Prosecution Wants Felony Plea, Defense Wants Diversion

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Today the five students arrested in Operation Ivy League had yet another court appearance, during which each was offered plea agreements by the prosecution, which all declined. Peter Sterne reports from the courtroom.

The hearing began a few minutes past the scheduled start time, when the defendants and their attorneys walked to the front of the room, and faced the judge. It wasn’t a jury trial, but the two sides did make arguments before the Honorable Judge Sonberg, who occasionally intervened to ask questions.

As we previously reported, attorneys for Coles and Wymbs are seeking a “diversion to treatment,” arguing that their clients only sold drugs to fund their own drug addictions, rather than to make a profit. Lawyers for Klein and Perez have since followed suit. This morning, Assistant District Attorney Novak argued that, in fact, the defendants did sell drugs primarily to make money. The high-profile defense attorneys, on the other hand, contend that their clients were good kids (frequently citing the fact they got into Columbia) who got mixed up in drugs and tricked by undercover agents, before finally entering treatment and turning their lives around. Matthew Myers, Harrison David’s attorney, forcefully declared, “My client didn’t attend Columbia University to become a cocaine dealer!”

The State, citing the defendants’ lack of criminal records and non-violent personalities, recommended plea deals for all of the defendants: If Coles, Klein, Wymbs, and Perez would plead guilty to a class-D felony they would be sentenced to 5 years probation, but no jail time. David would plead guilty to a B-2 felony and get 1 year of jail time.

The defense rejected these pleas, out of concern that a felony conviction could make it almost impossible for them to get admitted to another university and eventually find good jobs. The next hearing is scheduled for July 19.

Coles’ case was heard first. Novak reported that he initially sold a pound of marijuana for $5,000 to an undercover officer and another half-pound for $2,500 later, all of which was recorded by hidden cameras. Bwog was surprised at the extent to which the prosecution cited text messages from Coles’ (and the other defendants’) phones as evidence of “business-like transaction[s]” that suggested they were selling for profit rather to fund their own addictions. Coles was also haunted by comments he made back in December about why he was selling marijuana. Novak noted that Coles, “by his own admission,” was selling marijuana not to finance his habit, but to pay for Columbia. The defense argued that Coles only sold a little bit of marijuana to pay for his habit, until he was encouraged by the undercover to sell enough to get him in real trouble. Coles’ attorney, Marc Agnifilo, painted a picture of a young man from a “good family” who was an “extraordinary student” until he started smoking marijuana to deal with “social and academic anxiety.” In the end, he “smoked too much marijuana, and now he’s sitting before Your Honor.” After the hearing, Agnifilo told Bwog that Coles recently completed a treatment program in Washington state and has also volunteered as a tutor at the Fortune Society, a rehabilitation program for ex-offenders.

Next up was Klein, who was allegedly found with 3 vials of LSD (enough for 300 doses) and over $4000 “in individually wrapped 50’s and 100’s.” Coles’ attorney, Alan Abramson, argued that Klein is also an gifted student who has “made great strides” in his treatment program and should not be punished with a felony conviction.

Then came Michael Wymbs, who Novak reported was found with a half-vial of LSD, 38 capsules of MDMA (ecstasy), 2 bags of MDMA powder, and those infamous LSD-laced candies. Text message evidence, Novak argued, shows “hallmarks of a sales-oriented profit-making enterprise,” so Wymbs should not be diverted to treatment. Novak then cited a text message conversation in which one of Wymbs’ alleged customers complained the drugs were having no effect, and Wymbs advised him to “come back in an hour.” Finally, Novak argued that he couldn’t be selling to support an addiction, and therefore be eligible for a diversion, because “hallucinogens aren’t addictive.”

The last defendant not facing a jail sentence was Perez. Intriguingly, Novak alleged that Perez originally sold marijuana “and only stopped once he thought he was being investigated by the university.” Bwog has never heard that the university investigated Perez or any of the other defendants prior to their arrest by the NYPD. After ceasing marijuana sales, Novak argued, Perez began selling Adderall he obtained from his own prescription. The prosecution offered him the same plea they extended to the other defendants. The defense had apparently asked for a misdemeanor before, but now argued that he should be diverted to treatment like the others. The fact he was selling from his own prescription apparently makes his “a unique case.”

The final case to be heard today was David’s. David allegedly sold an ounce of cocaine for $880 to an undercover officer, and referred an undercover officer to the off-campus suppliers who have already pled guilty. He was offered a plea deal of 1 year in prison and 2 years of supervision. His attorney, Matthew Myers, argued it was the undercover officers (one of whom, Myers reminded the judge, was recently arrested by the NYPD) who approached David and asked him to get some coke. The prosecution admitted that David never allegedly sold coke except to the undercover officer, which seems to strengthen the defense’s case. Myers expanded on this point after the trial, telling Bwog that when undercovers first came to David’s apartment, he (allegedly) told them he had no coke and is not alleged to have made the coke sales until a significant amount of time had passed. “What coke dealer,” he asked rhetorically, “has no coke?”

Like Coles, David told the press after his arrest that he was only selling drugs to afford Columbia, since his father stopped paying his tuition. Apparently to excuse these “inappropriate comments,” Myers argued that David “became a cult figure” at Columbia when “all the kids became excited he got arrested, and they’re all blogging and Facebooking” about it. He explained that David has started to turn his life around, working in the family business (a store that sells window blinds) down in Florida and trying to find another “less competitive” school to attend. The problem with a felony conviction, he argued, is that no good university will admit him if he has that on his record, and it will be very difficult for him to find a job after Columbia. This prompted the judge to jump in with an excellent point: “realistically, won’t other universities google and facebook these guys?” Even if they’re not actually convicted of felonies, their names are inextricably linked to the drug bust.

After the hearing, Bwog compared notes with other reporters covering the hearing (including, apparently, the AP and DNAinfo) and spoke to some of the defense attorneys. We asked about the effect Palase’s recent arrest might have on the case, and the consensus was that while his arrest for illegal gambling does not make it impossible for the prosecution to go to trial and call him to the stand, it probably makes the DA more willing to bargain. And based on the hearing today, it seems that the DA is very willing to bargain and the judge is seriously considering granting the diversion to treatment for Coles, Perez, Wymbs, and Klein. It seems unlikely David will be found guilty of anything less than a felony and will recieve some amount of jail time. There is a chance, however, that he will only serve 6 months in jail in exchange for 5 years of supervision (called a “6-5 split”) rather than 1 year of prison and 2 years of supervision.

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  1. Anonymous

    Perhaps it would have made more sense to send bloggers with actual knowledge of the legal system rather than hipsters setting foot in a courtroom for the first time

  2. LOL

    "he smoked too muh marijuana and ended up in front of Your Honor"

  3. Curious George

    Hypothetically speaking, should anyone care if their text conversations with these guys are being read?

    • You mean in

      terms of privacy and security? I don't think that's an issue here because the texts are between the defendants and the undercover cop--it would be the same as if the cop called them and had the conversation recorded.

      • um, no  

        I don't think the texts are just between the undercover cop and defendant. They talk about the sales they did with other people. I think police just confiscated their phones in the raid, and used it as evidence. I guess it's really no different than having a list of letters to people on your desk.

        • Anonymous

          Any confiscated electronics includes the data stored in them

          • person

            No, there's no way to get the text information off without people unlocking it, at least for a device that isn't rooted. If they've got a lock code and don't willingly get it up, they have to get a subpoena for the manufacturer to give it to them.

            Smartphones are locked up pretty tight, it's just as hard for the police to jailbreak them.

        • LOL

          this is obama's government you have no rights...I mean look what he did to healthcare, forcing us all to buy it

      • Curious George

        No, I mean between students and the accused.

  4. Svu

    I hope this ADA Novak is also a hot redhead.

  5. A pound

    for $5000, shiattt if some one asked me for that price I'd know they were a cop, ain't no real ninjas buying pounds for $5000

    • hm

      What would you expect the price to be? $5000/lb breaks down to $40 for an eighth, which is reasonable if not a little cheap for New York standards. Maybe you'd expect more of a bulk discount?

  6. Anonymous

    They sold drugs t finance their own addictions? to what weed or psychedelics? did any of them even do an addictive drug?

    • Anonymous

      Though most people don't realize this, marijuana can actually be physiologically addictive if it's used in significant enough quantities. Not to mention that a drug can be psychologically addictive even if it isn't physiologically addictive.

      • Ok.

        But who really buys the argument that whatshisface only started smoking pot because Columbia's too much of a pressure cooker.

        I'm sorry, but no. You started smoking pot for the same reason everyone else does: because you're in college, it's fun, and you feel consider yourself invincible to any kind of consequences. And I'm willing to bet your first hit was sometime before showing up in Morningside Heights. Puh-lease.

        Also WHY the hell should these kids get another chance at a "good" college and a fancy non-drug-dealing job?? They had an opportunity that now only goes to like 6% of kids who want it, and they blew it. End of story. These are adults who had all the resources in the world available to them and complete control over their own decisions.

        Tough. Titties.

        I of course realize that the lawyers are just doing their (slimy slime-bucket) jobs, but I hope the judge pulls through on this one. His point about the googling and facebooking sounds hopeful?

  7. Anonymous

    besides the coke dealer of course

  8. Anonymous

    Putting sympathy aside let's be real: these five students clearly sold drugs for profit. In fact if they are somehow found innocent, I wouldn't think it a stretch to call the legal system here corrupt

    • Yeehaw

      Yeah! Hang 'em! Have 'em drawn and quartered! They violated the LAW.
      Come on. It's not a matter of sympathy. It's a matter of the case being disproportionate to the offense in most of these cases.

      • Anonymous  

        You're right about it not being a matter of sympathy. I still don't see how this case is disproportionate to the offense considering they committed felonies. I think the integrity of the legal system is what he mean by "corruption." If people have a problem with a specific law, there's measures in place to repeal them, you know?

        How drug laws work:
        Someone writes something down that makes drugs illegal. Lots of people get scared and stop using those drugs. Less people have psychotic meltdowns and we (as taxpayers) saves millions. IT'S MAGIC PEOPLE

    • ...

      fair enough. but you know, when a so-called prestigious and upstanding organization like columbia engages in dodgy practices such as privatized eminent domain and the sort of gouging that takes place in gs where many of columbia's least well off students are left with highest debt loads in the university (if not the country), i can't really blame these kids for having slippery morals. the university isn't exactly setting the best example to follow, now is it...

    • Innocent Before Proven Guilty

      C'mon guys, "let's be real." All we know is what the media's reporting. They haven't been convicted yet. Our legal system may not be perfect, but it's a damn sight better than a lot of other options. Let's not go casting aspersions on the whole country based on a trial that's not over yet.

  9. Anonymous

    I just do not care about this anymore

  10. Anonymous

    you care enough to comment, moron.

  11. just wondering?

    how long will this go on for?

  12. Stephan Perez

    Harrison David set us all up....he took us inner city kids and used us to peddle his drugs

  13. Anonymous

    This is soooooo two semesters ago

  14. Anonymous

    "The problem with a felony conviction, he argued, is that no good university will admit him if he has that on his record, and it will be very difficult for him to find a job after Columbia."

    The entitlement here is killing me. Dumbass should've thought of that before he decided to deal drugs.

  15. Anonymous

    I'll mail you $100 wherever you are if you can:

    a) define the word hipster as something more than the new, cool catch-all insult of the day (the 'emo' of 2006)

    b) explain how said definition remotely applies to this article and your comment overall.

    $100 bucks.

    • Fun with definitions

      a) hipster=a person who comments on bwog posts.
      b) this definition applies to this post, because it is a bwog post, and this coment, as it is a comment on a bwog post.

      If this means defining myself as a hipster, I'll be happy to sell out for $100. That's what hipsters do, after all.

    • ramshacklerodeo

      The term hipster, you talkin' 'bout Norman Mailer's definition here? If you are that should explain the answer to your second question.

  16. Anonymous

    well apparently these kids did!

  17. Anonymous

    Ah I see. Clearly I would be a terrible drug dealer.

    (same poster as above, posting from a different computer now)

  18. War on Drugs

    This is Kafka-esque in it's absurdity. In the end, he “smoked too much marijuana, and now he’s sitting before Your Honor.” I'd laugh if it weren't so sad. Are you telling me people's innocence should be decided on whether or not they were addicted, or whether college is expensive, or whether they didn't lead blissfully well adjusted studious lives? To think of all the time, energy, and good reputation lost on this trial is mind boggling. To expand that to the larger War on Drugs is something I cannot even comprehend.

  19. Anonymous

    i still get angry every time i see the 'i had to do it because my dad stopped paying' thing. why don't you do what other students who don't have the money for college do: swallow your pride and get your (previously?) privileged ass to the financial aid office and use your words, or get a freakin' job. he's worried he won't get a job after columbia because of this court case? honey, i would hope that with your lazy, entitled attitude nobody would have wanted to employ you in the first place. besides, there's always the family business!

    • Anonymous

      well... if his dad has enough money to pay but just refuses, that does put him in a pretty tough situation---he won't be able to get enough financial aid to stay at school without making 30K+ a year, and what college student has the time, resume, or preparation to do that? There are plenty of adults with actual employment history and skills working full time and making less than that.

      Still not an excuse to sell drugs, but more of a problem than your comment seems to imply.

      • Anonymous

        very valid argument. i guess i just have a hard time sympathizing with someone who chooses to engage--and not just passively, occasionally, but in a relatively overt and substantial way--in an obviously illegal activity with such obviously large consequences if caught (for the record, i DO sympathize as a human with his current undesirable circumstances). there's always the option of transferring to a more affordable state school; while the idea of leaving one's friends and sacrificing the prestige associated with a Columbia degree is daunting, tons of people of all different economic statuses and all different types of schools transfer for economic reasons every year. there is also the option of private loans if you simply can't fathom leaving columbia. many college students face significant adversity--financial or otherwise--during their years at school, and his chosen way of dealing with it smacks of entitlement, laziness and bad coping mechanisms.

        also, was it proven that his father really did just up and refuse to pay tuition? if he did, that sucks, but he paid for several years, so I have a hard time believing that his change of heart came about so abruptly and without some sort of negative action on his son's part--did he fail to maintain a certain grade point average, uphold an agreement or, i don't know, start selling drugs? if it did, that's terrible, but i doubt selling drugs was the only avenue. did he ask grandparents for help? did he try to reason with his father? did he speak to his advisor about these circumstances?

      • then

        he shouldn't have gone to Columbia then, if he felt that he needed to exhort to illegal means to pay the tuition. DEAL. It's a privilege to go, not a right. I've had tons of friends who picked calmly chose not to go to the school of their dreams because they couldn't pay for it and didn't feel like being saddled with loads of debt. Also, if they were really so freaking poor, then they shouldn't have joined frats that required extra monthly fees. Weak argument.

  20. HA

    “My client didn’t attend Columbia University to become a cocaine dealer!”


    No jail time when they're clearly guilty and they still reject the plea? Good call.

  21. Anonymous

    This is all bullshit and shouldn't be happening in the first place. The War on Drugs is such a sick, cruel joke.

    • well...  

      That may be, but the law is the law. Just because you don't think it's a crime doesn't make it so.

      • ...

        i think that maybe you should run that by mildred and richard loving. but hey, it sure does sound good!

        • Anonymous

          >implying interracial marriage is comparable to this at all
          I hope you're trolling.

          • ...  

            they're both infringement upon individual liberties.

            i don't really understand why throwing people in jail for marrying "wrong" is any different from throwing people in jail as a means of dealing with a public health problem... at the end of the day, they're both misguided ideas that aim to bring about some impossible to realize puritanical utopian society that take a hard line towards individual liberties and a hard right "we will solve it will jail" stance.

          • Anonymous

            Dealing drugs is hardly a "public health problem." It's a form of exploitation. By using your "individual liberties" to make a profit off dealing cocaine you are harming other people who become dependent on those substances, and exploiting their physiological or psychological (and both are potent, so this applies to any sort of substance not just the obvious cocaine) addiction for your own financial gain.

            No one was making a financial profit off interracial marriage. Phillip Morris doesn't dole out wedding rings (and hell, neither does Starbucks.) You can't seriously believe a society where highly addictive substances are street legal would be more free, when the likes of Nicotine and Caffeine are already massively profitable and have countless dependent customers. Not saying caffeine should be illegal because it obviously doesn't regularly kill it's consumers. And big tobacco has too many lobbyists, at least as of now.

            Bottom line: selling addictive substance for a profit motive is morally dubious and for the most part rightfully illegal. Now growing stuff for your own consumption, sure that could easily be construed as being within your "personal liberties." Similarly to interracial marriage it doesn't take advantage or bring any harm upon anyone else.

          • ...  

            what makes you think that most retail drug dealers are in it purely for a profit motive. i've known a few drug dealers over the years. many already enjoyed financial stability and were merely wrapped up in selling drugs because:

            a) they were "not only the president, but also a member"


            b) they were pretty socially awkward and had built a life around it

            if that doesn't sound like a public health problem, i really don't know what is.

            and well, exploitation? welcome to the modern world, you can't even eat a meal in this country without there being *some* exploitation involved in the supply chain that put it in front of you.

            but all of this is neither here nor there, my original response was driven by a ridiculous, flat "the law is the law" argument. if i don't think something is a crime, and i care about it, i could give two shits about the law... and i encourage every other thinking human being to behave in the same way.

      • Judge Dredd  

        I AM THE LAW!!

  22. Anonymous


  23. Anonymous

    these lawyers will come up with any bullshit ...if they could get bailed out of jail for $40,000 i'm sure they had more than enough money to support their substance habit.

    i know one of the guys personally and really he's just a hot mess. he was not using the money he was making from selling drugs to pay for columbia. please, since when does columbia accept bags of cash...take out student loans like the rest of us.

    good day

  24. Anonymous

    im embarrassed to attend the same school as you hating trolls

  25. Anonymous

    this sucks...

  26. ndp

    the state recommended class-D felony deals for them?? 5 yrs probation and no jail time? when they were dealing coke, ecstasy, marijuana to university students???

    Why, because several of them are jews? so judge "sonberg" takes it easy on them? ridiculous. it's ok to give blacks and hispanics felony charges for possessing a dimebag of weed but give these assholes a class-D when they sold all kinds of hard drugs to vulnerable university students? what a joke

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