SAN DIEGO (AP) - When a 19-year-old sophomore sorority member
died a year ago from a cocaine overdose at San Diego State University, campus investigators set out to find out who was dealing drugs to their 34,000 students.
It turned out their targets were on Fraternity Row, where authorities say unassuming facades of houses emblazoned with Greek symbols concealed thriving networks that may have used profits to finance fraternity operations.
Undercover agents arrested 96 people, including 75 San Diego State students, during a five-month investigation into drug dealing on campus. Students at three fraternities were arrested.
Twenty-nine people were arrested early Tuesday in raids at nine locations including the Theta Chi fraternity, where agents found cocaine, ecstasy and three guns. Eighteen of them were wanted on
warrants for selling to undercover agents.
San Diego State suspended Theta Chi and five other fraternities Tuesday pending a hearing on evidence gathered during the investigation.
Some fraternity members made little effort to hide, authorities said.
One Theta Chi member allegedly sent text messages to regular customers offering reduced prices on bulk quantities of cocaine before heading to Las Vegas for a fraternity formal.
"Attn faithful customers both myself and my associates will be in Vegas this coming weekend," the 19-year-old student wrote in the text message. "So stock up, we will be back Sunday night."
One student who was arrested was a month away from a criminal
justice degree and another about to receive a master's degree in
"A sad commentary is that when one of these individuals was arrested, they inquired as (to) whether or not his arrest and incarceration would have an effect on him becoming a federal law
enforcement officer," said Ralph Partridge, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego.
The Greek system has about 3,000 students, but Fraternity Row plays an outsized role in campus life. It sits a block from Cox Arena, home to many college sporting events.
Dale Taylor, national executive director of Theta Chi, said he was "obviously shocked and saddened" by the allegations. Theta Chi prohibited the San Diego chapter from group activities like parties or sports activities and will investigate additional disciplinary measures, up to expulsion of members or the entire chapter.
The San Diego chapter, founded 61 years ago, was the first national fraternity on campus and has 65 members.
"They were on the upswing," Taylor said. "They had improved their recruitment. They were trying to raise money for a new house."
Theta Chi's San Diego chapter declined to comment. The chapter occupies two low-slung homes a block off Fraternity Row, with large
red-and-white Greek symbols propped on the roof.
"We're talking to our advisers," said John Phillips, a past president of the chapter.
Theta Chi has 131 chapters in the U.S. and Canada and more than 161,000 initiates. It was founded in 1856.
University police launched their investigation into drug sales on campus after Shirley Poliakoff, 19, died from a cocaine overdose in May 2007. Investigators discovered many students in fraternities were aware of organized drug dealing within their houses.
As the investigation proceeded, another student, from Mesa College, died of a cocaine overdose at an SDSU fraternity house on Feb. 26, the DEA said.
In April, prosecutors said, the 19-year-old Theta Chi student sent out his text message advising customers to "stock up" before the weekend because he would be in Las Vegas and unable to complete orders. Grams of cocaine were on sale for as little as $35.
More than 130 undercover drug buys were made at locations including fraternity houses, student parking areas and in student dormitories during the investigation by university police and the DEA, authorities said.
Authorities seized several guns, at least $60,000 in cash, marijuana, psychedelic mushrooms, hash oil, methamphetamine and llicit prescription drugs, the university said.
Two men were pleaded not guilty drug charges Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court - Patrick Hawley to selling cocaine and Omar Castaneda to possession of cocaine.
Some drugs bought and sold by students were traced to gangs linked to Mexican cartels, according to the DEA. Agents collected about $100,000 worth of drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy pills, hallucinogenic mushrooms and high-grade marijuana that were being
advertised in "resale quantities" between members of the fraternity and other students.
Students from two other fraternities, Phi Kappa Psi and Delta Sigma Pi, were among those arrested, according to Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler.
Shawn Collinsworth, executive director of the national office of Phi Kappa Psi, said he was told by two of the SDSU fraternity chapter's leaders that four of its members were arrested. He added the fraternity is cooperating with the investigation.
"It isn't behavior becoming of Phi Kappa Psi," Collinsworth said.
A phone message left with Delta Sigma Pi's national office after business hours was not immediately returned.
Associated Press Writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Greg
Risling in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)