February 03, 2012 by Stan Wright
Local authorities arrested two Drexel students last month for their involvement in a local million-dollar LSD operation. Following their arrest, the students became police informants, leading to the Jan. 31 bust of three ringleaders at the 4800 Block of Florence Street.
The bust was made Tuesday night by a combined force including the district attorney’s Dangerous Drug Offender Unit, the Drug Enforcement Administration and members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 12th and 18th districts.
The unnamed students’ cooperation led to the arrest of 33-year-old Raphael Zappala, 31-year-old Joshua Dassay and 34-year-old Wesley Crawford, who were arrested Tuesday at Dassay’s residence. The three were in possession of $28,000 worth of LSD, in the form of perforated sheets with printed images of Homer Simpson and other cultural figures on them. Police also found $10,000 in cash.
According to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office press release, investigators believe that the men had been selling the LSD for over a year prior to the arrests.
“This investigation began with the help of detectives from the Upper Moreland Police Department earlier this month,” the press release said. “On January 18, 2012, Upper Moreland detectives notified our office that they had arrested a Drexel University student on marijuana and gun charges who was willing to provide information on a drug ring operating on Drexel’s campus.”
According to Domenic Ceccanecchio, senior associate vice president of Drexel’s Department of Public Safety, this student provided information about his LSD supplier, another Drexel student. The second student also agreed to work with the police, allowing the district attorney’s detectives to record phone calls of his drug deals.
“From the information [investigators] gathered, they got search warrants for the house on Florence Street,” Ceccanecchio said.
According to ABC 6 Action News, police reported that the three defendants sold the LSD mainly to Drexel students for $10 to $30 a hit for a total weekly gross between $5,000 and $15,000. Ceccanecchio said that even though the men were targeting Drexel students, the University wasn’t central to the operation.
“Let’s put things in perspective. We’ve got 25,000 students here. These were two students that got involved in this, as far as I’m concerned, shameful behavior,” he said.
“In reality, the operation was centered in a residence that is over a mile from our campus, and the narcotics sales conducted by these drug dealers covered a much wider area,” Ceccanecchio continued. “Unfortunately, two misguided students became caught up in this detestable criminal activity, and they will be held accountable for their actions.”
Kenny Wittwer, a freshman psychology major, said he doubts the prominence of LSD on Drexel’s campus.
“I don’t think that drugs are a huge problem at Drexel,” he said. “Our school’s known for its community of high-achieving students, not an open-air drug culture. I hope people don’t get the wrong impression of Drexel after this bust.”
Ceccanecchio noted that Drexel followed protocol when dealing with the students involved.
“As soon as the part of the investigation involving [the students] was complete, they were put on immediate interim suspension. I think it’s important for our community to know that,” he said. “We take the drug issue very seriously, and our objective is to maintain a drug-free campus environment and in the surrounding area as well, and we work hard to that end.”
When asked if the students’ assistance in the case will provide any leniency in their prosecution, Ceccanecchio said, “That’s something that the district attorney’s office will decide at the end of the day. Right now it’s at the prosecution stage, so they’ll determine what charges get filed against them.”
According to the district attorney’s office, the three men central to the operation represent “one of the largest LSD suppliers in the Philadelphia region in recent history,” and this bust is the biggest they’ve seen in over 15 years.
The defendants were charged with delivery, possession with intent to deliver, conspiracy, use of a communication device to facilitate a narcotics transaction, and endangering the welfare of a child. Police say this last charge was made because Dassay’s infant was present during the drug sales.
A Metro Philadelphia article released Jan. 31 revealed that Zappala is the son of an Iraq war activist named Celeste Zappala, who did not comment on her son’s arrest.
Lysergic acid diethylamide is an illegal substance known for its “psychological effects,” which can cause the user to hallucinate and undergo a distorted thinking process. It can be sold as a liquid, or in this case, can be applied to blotter paper. The drug is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and MDMA.
Ceccanecchio said that a bust of this nature has never involved Drexel University.
Drexel’s official statement noted that the University “will continue to work with local law enforcement authorities to do everything in our power to keep our campus and surrounding community drug free.”
“I hope that the actions of a few do not tarnish the image of educational excellence that we associate with Drexel University,” District Attorney Seth Williams said.