US Attorney Matthew Martin said in a news conference that those arrested were accused of dealing drugs in and around the campuses of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Duke University and Appalachian State University. He said members of several fraternities were charged, and more arrests could come.
The investigation began in 2018, according to a news release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, and the first person was charged in November 2019. The rest were charged between July and December.
The investigation conducted by a US Drug Enforcement Administration task force and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office “revealed drug activity involving members of several fraternal organizations at universities in the state,” the news release said.
Court filings specifically allege illegal drug activity involving the UNC chapters of Phi Gamma Delta, Kappa Sigma and Beta Theta Pi between 2017 and the spring of this year, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
One of the 21 defendants was a student at Duke University who allegedly distributed cocaine to fellow students and to fraternity members from UNC-Chapel Hill, the US Attorney’s Office said.
Two students at Appalachian State University in Boone were also accused of distributing drugs to fellow students, specifically LSD and cocaine, the news release said.
Martin said that over several years the suspects allegedly moved more than a thousand of pounds of marijuana and hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and other drugs through their supply chain. The drug proceeds exceeded $1.5 million, according to the DEA.
“This is about saving lives,” Martin told reporters Thursday. “This really is a public health crisis. We really have to stand together, cut off the supply.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Robert Murphy said in the news release, “These fraternity members’ drug trafficking crimes contributed to a toxic and dangerous environment on these college campuses. The arrest of these drug traffickers makes these college campuses and their respective communities safer.”
In statements to CNN, all three universities said they are cooperating with law enforcement.
Michael Schoenfeld, the chief communications officer at Duke, said, “Duke will respond accordingly through our disciplinary process.”
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said the school was “extremely disappointed to learn of these alleged actions on our campus.”
A statement from Appalachian State said officials are “committed to providing a safe campus, and will continue our work with education and prevention, as well as utilizing student conduct and law enforcement processes, to do so.”
Eight of the accused have pleaded guilty to at least one charge, prosecutors say. One, Francisco Javier Ochoa, 27, of Turlock, California, pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges last month and was sentenced to 73 months in prison.
The national offices of the three fraternities at UNC issued statements to CNN after the charges were announced Thursday.
“It is shocking to learn of the allegations involving our chapter and others at the University of North Carolina,” read the Phi Gamma Delta statement. “These allegations are…