HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. , Duke University and Appalachian State University — Authorities announced Thursday the arrests of 21 mostly current or former students involved in a large-scale drug-trafficking ring that channeled copious amounts of illegal narcotics through three major North Carolina university campuses, implicating several fraternities in the distribution scheme.
The yearslong investigation, which eventually zeroed in on trafficking activity on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and Appalachian State University campuses, began at the local level and “unfolded unlike any other case I have seen,” Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood told WRAL.
According to court documents, the UNC chapters of Phi Gamma Delta, Kappa Sigma and Beta Theta Pi were all involved in illegal drug activity between 2017 and the spring of 2020, during which time the operation funneled more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana, several hundred kilograms of cocaine and significant quantities of other drugs – at an estimated profit of more than $1.5 million – onto the college campuses, WSOC reported.
“This investigation reveals that the fraternity culture at these universities is dangerous,” U.S. Attorney Matt Martin told the TV station, imploring university administrators and national chapters not to “turn a blind eye to the impact on these students and the environment on their respective college campuses.”
“The drug culture feeds many other problems on campus and in our society. University administrators must take a stand and put a stop to it,” Martin added.
Investigators have also linked an Appalachian State fraternity member, who they allege sold the drugs to both App State students and people in Chapel Hill, to the ring, along with another App State student, WSOC reported.
Meanwhile, a female Duke student is accused of distributing cocaine to other Duke students and to fraternity members at UNC, the TV station reported.
“The distribution of hard drugs was pervasive in and around certain fraternities,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement that no current students are among the charged individuals.
“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,” Guskiewicz stated.
According to court documents, the alleged traffickers transported the drugs from California to North Carolina via the U.S. Postal Service and would also ship payments through the mail by hiding vacuum-sealed cash inside household appliances, such as a toaster, WRAL reported.
Appalachian State provided both media outlets the following statement regarding the arrests:
“Appalachian State University is fully cooperating with this investigation. We have no on-campus fraternity houses, and we report bi-annually on the status of recognized fraternities and sororities. You can find the latest information here. We 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.”
Francisco Javier Ochoa, 27, named as a primary drug supplier, was the first person charged in the investigation and was sentenced to 73 months in prison, 5 years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $250,000 forfeiture judgment, WSOC reported.
According to both outlets, 20 other people were charged between July and December, including the following five charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute marijuana:
• Andrew Boylan Gaddy, 24, of Carrboro, North Carolina
• Travis Michael Evans, 27, of Hillsborough, North Carolina
• Dane Lambert Simon, 23, of Durham, North Carolina
• Brianha Nicole Haskell, 24, of Hillsborough, North Carolina
• Mariela Zavala Mendoza, aka Maria Ochoa, 25, of Turlock, California
The following seven people were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine:
• Zachre Chasen Abercrombie, 27, of Charlotte, North Carolina
• Amber Jana Johnson, 24, of Carrboro, North Carolina
• John Frederick Holloway, 23, of Carrboro, North Carolina
• Devin James McDonald, 23, of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
• Jason Blake Nitsos, 24, of Greensboro, North Carolina
• Devon Anthony Pickering, 35, of Charlotte, North Carolina
• Edison Torres Robles, aka Fransisco Gallego Mandez Rodriguez, 26, of Durham, North Carolina
• Jason Shuang Xu, 23, of Apex, North Carolina
The following seven people were charged with varying offenses:
• Chandler David Anderson, 27, of Wilmington, North Carolina: conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana
• Davis Lindsey Bayha, 21, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina: conspiracy to distribute marijuana; use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug felony; and distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a public or private college or university
• Kyle Parrish Beckner, 22, of Boone, North Carolina: distribution of LSD and use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug felony
• Bernard Aleksander Bokowski, 24, of Raleigh, North Carolina: conspiracy to distribute cocaine and one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine
• Charles Cleveau Poindexter, aka Chase Poindexter, 23, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina: conspiracy to distribute cocaine; use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug felony; and distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a public or private college or university
• Jackson Alexander Norris, 22, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina: conspiracy to distribute cocaine; use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug felony; and distribution of a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a public or private college or university
• Christopher Antonio Reyes, 26, of Greensboro, North Carolina: conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana
Based on their charges, criminal histories and level of cooperation with the investigation, those charged could face minimum mandatory sentences of five to 10 years, with possible sentences of up to life in prison, WRAL reported.