Photo by Stephen de Ropp
UCSC students Benny Liu and Cesar Casil were arrested on the 400 block of Locust Street on March 4. Police seized MDMA tablets from the house pictured and from houses on the 100 block of Peach Terrace and the 200 block of Castillion Terrace. Photo by Stephen de Ropp

Six UC Santa Cruz students were arrested on March 4 for drug trafficking charges, including conspiracy and possession of a controlled substance for sale, according to a press release from the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD).

Mariah Dremel (21), Benny Liu (21), Cesar Casil (21), Nathan Tieu (22), Hoai “Nancy” Nguyen (21) and Cecilia Le (21), were arrested after SCPD and the US Postal Service (USPS) monitored packages sent to three Santa Cruz addresses from overseas.

“The Postal Service and Homeland Security were suspicious about packages being sent to these specific addresses, so they gave us a tip to look into it,” said SCPD spokesperson Joyce Blaschke in an interview. “When our [Neighborhood Enforcement Team] took on the investigation, they saw there was more to it. This was something they had been looking into for a few weeks.”

Members of the SCPD Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET), Santa Cruz County Anti-Crime Team, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), US Postal Service Inspectors and Homeland Security Investigations assisted in the search warrants, which were served to the three homes — all within two miles of campus.

Dremel, Nguyen and Le were arrested at the address on Peach Terrace, Liu and Casel were arrested at the address on Locust Street and Tieu was arrested on Castillion Terrace. Authorities seized a total of 4.1 pounds or 5,000 tablets of MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, which have a street value of over $100,000.

Dremel, Nguyen and Le are members of alpha Kappa Delta Phi, the largest Asian-American interest sorority in the United States, and Liu, Casil and Tieu are members of Lambda Phi Epsilon, the largest Asian-American interest fraternity in the world. The six students, along with their respective UCSC Greek life chapters, have been placed on interim suspension pending campus judicial proceedings.

Ecstasy is a psychedelic and stimulant that produces energy in users, induces euphoria and enhances sensory experiences, according to the DEA website. Pure MDMA has been used in clinical trials to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but the DEA places Ecstasy, which is often laced with cocaine, methamphetamine or other narcotics, in the schedule I drug category.

Schedule I drugs are “the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence,” according to the federal DEA website.

The students were assigned bail ranging from $5,500 to $30,000, according to records from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. They have since been released from holding.

Blaschke said the investigation is ongoing and SCPD’s next steps are to follow up on leads. “At minimum there are 5,000 pills. That’s an approximate, low minimum,” Blaschke said. “Where were those pills going to go?”

The charges are serious enough to result in a felony on the students’ records, according to Blaschke. In a campus-wide email, Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway said disciplinary action could involve expulsion.

“Off-campus behavior can lead to the initiation of student conduct processes,” said Scott Hernandez-Jason, director of news and media relations. “This process respects the rights of the student and provides due process, and once initiated, it can lead to a variety of outcomes ranging from community service all the way up to expulsion.”

The students’ arrests have made national headlines, with some reading, “Six UC Santa Cruz fraternity and sorority members arrested in alleged Ecstasy ring” and “UCSC drug bust: Fraternity and sorority members accused in international MDMA ring.” Heer Purewal, president of UCSC’s Inter-Greek Council, said she is disappointed with major media outlets’ emphasis on the students’ fraternity and sorority membership, implying a link between drugs and Greek letter organizations.

“The initial response of a lot of people [in Greek letter organizations], especially those unfamiliar with these two specific organizations has been to instantly distance themselves from it, simply because allegations like this really are not something we feel we represent at all,” Purewal said.

She added that the allegations against the six students affect not only the organizations they are part of but also the other Greek letter organizations on campus.

“You can see it in comments people are making,” Purewal said. “I personally have been seeing comments like, ‘I’m not surprised, this is a Greek organization.’ That’s really unfortunate because we represent [about 1,000] people. You can’t lump that many people into one category.”

When news broke of the March 4 arrests, students took to Facebook’s Official Group of UCSC Students page to discuss the story. Some members of the page left derogatory and racist comments, citing Asian stereotypes. The comments have since been taken down.

The international leadership boards of alpha Kappa Delta Phi Sorority and Lambda Phi Epsilon Fraternity issued statements on Tuesday addressing the students’ arrests. The statements, which are nearly identical, cite the organizations’ zero tolerance policy for drugs and controlled substances.

“This is something that could happen at any campus,” SCPD spokesperson Blaschke said. “I don’t think this is exclusive to UCSC. Absolutely not. This group in particular just got caught.”

Blaschke said SCPD will release details of the case as the investigation warrants. The students could face prison time if convicted.