CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Twenty-one people -- including current and former students from University of North Carolina, Duke University, and Appalachian State University -- have been arrested for dealing drugs at and on college campuses.
United States Attorney Matthew Martin, a UNC alumnus, said the arrested drug dealers were not small-time drug users, but instead "hardened drug dealers."
"This is a large drug network and supply chain fueling a drug culture at fraternities and within these universities and around these universities and towns," Martin said.
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He said the suspects were responsible for moving thousands of pounds of marijuana, hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, LSD, molly, mushrooms, steroids, HGH, Xanax and other narcotics.
The investigation started years ago. The Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Drug Enforcement Agency launched an investigation in November 2018 into cocaine being sold in the Chapel Hill area.
It soon became clear that the illegal drug distribution was happening at or near UNC fraternity organizations.
Court filings specifically point to UNC chapters of Phi Gamma Delta, Kappa Sigma, and Beta Theta Pi from 2017-2020 being sites of illegal drug activity.
"Dealers set up inside these houses, poisoning fellow members of their fraternity, fueling a culture. And that's why I say today is about saving lives. Because this reckless culture has endangered lives," Martin said.
An Appalachian State fraternity member is also accused of being part of the drug ring, selling to fellow App State students as well as people in Chapel Hill.
Investigators also identified a female Duke student as being responsible for distributing cocaine to students at Duke and to fraternity members at UNC.
A primary supplier from California was the first person charged. According to court documents, from March 2017 until March 22, 2019, he supplied approximately 200 pounds of marijuana and two kilograms of cocaine weekly to a cooperating defendant in Orange County. Law enforcement operations at locations associated with the subject in Carrboro and Hillsborough resulted in the seizure of 148.75 pounds of marijuana, 442 grams of cocaine, 189 Xanax pills, steroids, human growth hormone, other narcotics, and approximately $27,775 in U.S. currency.
The investigation showed that payment for drugs was made using Venmo and by sending cash through the U.S. mail. That supplier pleaded guilty to on Nov. 24 and was sentenced to 73 months in prison.
The five defendants indicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute marijuana face terms of imprisonment ranging from 10 years to life.
"College communities should be a safe haven for young adults to get a higher education. Not a place where illegal drugs are easily accessible," DEA agent Matt O'Brien said. "The arrest of these drug traffickers makes these college campuses and their respective communities safer."
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz issued the following statement about the allegations; "We are extremely disappointed to learn of these alleged actions on our campus. The University is committed to working with law enforcement to fully understand the involvement of any university individuals or organizations so that disciplinary action can be taken. Although none of the individuals named today are currently enrolled students, we will remain vigilant and continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and address any illegal drug use on our campus. Our community can be certain that the University will enforce the student conduct code to the fullest extent possible."
A representative of Phi Gamma Delta issued the following statement: "It is shocking to learn of the allegations involving our chapter and others at the University of North Carolina. These allegations are very serious, suggest conduct which violate our policies and values, and we have zero tolerance for the alleged actions. We are committed to working with law enforcement and the University to fully understand the involvement of our members."