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21 charged in alleged drug ring involving major North Carolina universities

Twenty-one people have been charged in an alleged drug ring that involved multiple fraternities and students at major North Carolina universities, the Department of Justice announced Thursday. The alleged drug ring brought over 1,000 pounds of marijuana, several hundred kilograms of cocaine, and "significant quantities of other drugs" onto the college campuses over several years, according to the DOJ.

The first person charged in the investigation was Francisco Javier Ochoa, who the DOJ identified as a "primary supplier" of the narcotics. Court documents allege that Ochoa supplied approximately 200 pounds of marijuana and 2 kilograms of cocaine a week to a cooperating defendant in Orange County, North Carolina. Ochoa pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced in November to 73 months in prison. He was also ordered to pay a $250,000 forfeiture judgment.

Between July and December of 2020, 20 other people were charged as part of the investigation, prosecutors said. Many of the defendants are identified as fraternity members or other students at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and Appalachian State University.

They face charges including conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and and distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a public or private college or university, among others.

In a statement announcing the charges, the DOJ claimed that "the distribution of hard drugs was pervasive in and around certain fraternities."

"No one is above the law, including college students and fraternity members at elite universities. This serious drug trafficking is destructive and reckless, and many lives have been ruined," said Matthew Martin, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. "This investigation reveals that the fraternity culture at these universities is dangerous. University administrators and national chapters cannot turn a blind eye to the impact on these students and the environment on their respective college campuses."

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told CBS News in a statement that the university is "extremely disappointed" to learn of the allegations.

"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," Guskiewicz said.

Appalachian State University said it is "fully cooperating" with the investigation. Duke University did not respond to a request for comment. 

In addition to Ochoa, seven other defendants have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

"The amount of illegal narcotics being sold and used in this case was not only astonishing; it also reflected a very serious public health crisis," said Orange County Sheriff Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood. "We worked this case in an effort to save lives."

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