Bloomberg News

Columbia Student Coles to Enter N.Y. Drug Treatment Program

November 25, 2011

(Updates with prosecutor’s comments in sixth paragraph.)

Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- A Columbia University student arrested last year on drug charges will enroll in a treatment program allowing him to avoid a criminal record.

Christopher Coles, 21, of Philadelphia, was granted entry into the program today by Judge Ellen Coin in New York, who supervises it.

Coin rejected the government’s objections to granting Coles the treatment option after the student’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, argued that he sought treatment before his arrest, showing he was addicted to marijuana and not simply a dealer after money as prosecutors maintained.

“He reached out to professionals available to him,” Agnifilo said. “He’s the perfect candidate for judicial diversion.”

Prosecutors argued that Coles and three codefendants weren’t eligible because their sales of drugs were motivated by profit and not addiction.

“There was no indication that smoking marijuana was a factor in his actions,” Assistant District Attorney Catherine Christian of the city’s special narcotics prosecutor’s office said today in court. “There are tapes of him selling police officers drugs. He was not stoned, not high.”

Coles didn’t address the court.

He delayed his decision three weeks ago on whether to seek enrollment because of the treatment’s cost, as much as $3,000 a month, and the fact that he must live in a center for a year.

Diversion Program

The alternative was a criminal record and probation offered by prosecutors in return for a guilty plea. If he completes the treatment successfully, the criminal case will be dropped.

The diversion program, set up in 2009 as part of a reform of the state’s so-called Rockefeller drug laws, allows judges to divert some nonviolent offenders to treatment programs instead of incarceration.

Justice Michael Sonberg of state Supreme Court allowed Coles to seek admission to the program and denied it to two codefendants, Jose Stephan Perez of Atlanta and Michael Wymbs of New York.

Wymbs later pleaded guilty to third-degree attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to five years’ probation.

Five students -- Coles; Perez; Wymbs; Adam Klein, 21, of Closter, New Jersey; and Harrison David, 21, of Wrentham, Massachusetts -- were arrested in December after a five-month operation by the New York City Police Department.

Drug Buys

Prosecutors said undercover officers spent $11,000 buying drugs including cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and LSD-laced candy, with most sales taking place in common areas and bedrooms of three fraternities.

David pleaded guilty on July 19 to selling cocaine to an undercover officer in exchange for six months in jail and five years of probation. He began serving his prison term on Aug. 30.

Perez and Klein face sentences of as long as 2 1/2 years if convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, the most serious charge against each of them. Both turned down plea bargains in June that included five years’ probation.

The case is People v. David, 00038N/2011, New York state Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan.)

--Editors: Charles Carter, Stephen Farr

To contact the reporters on this story: Cullen Wheatley in New York at cwheatley2@bloomberg.net; Chris Dolmetsch in New York at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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