SDSU Students Face Judge
Posted by Shaun Dawson on May 9, 2008
Authorities have identified two students as major players in a drug ring operating at SDSU. They are Kenneth Ciaccio, 19, and Thomas Watanapun, 21. They were both arraigned and pleaded not guilty to drug charges in Superior Court Thursday. Kenneth Ciaccio was “a major source of supply on campus” and Thomas Watanapun was “a major source of anything” including cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy tablets, Deputy District Attorney Shawn Tafreshi told Judge David M. Szumowski.
Kenneth Ciaccio, 19, bragged to undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents in early April that he could get them over a quarter-pound of cocaine after selling them smaller quantities in two separate transactions, Tafreshi said.
Ciaccio sent a text message to agents suggesting they buy drugs soon because he and his associates were taking a trip to Las Vegas, the prosecutor said. The message listed the prices for drugs. On his return from Las Vegas, he sent agents another text message saying “I’m back in town and I hope to hear from you soon. I’m going to hook you guys up.”
Ciaccio’s lawyer, Michael Messina, said outside the courtroom that Ciaccio has wrongly been characterized as “a kingpin” in the SDSU drug deals.
“My client is not a major player in this particular enterprise,” Messina said. “He comes from a good home, a good family … unfortunately he appears to have made some mistakes.”
The judge ordered Ciaccio held in jail in lieu of $150,000 bail. If convicted, Ciaccio faces more than 6 years in prison.
Watanapun, 21, provided a half-ounce of cocaine which another student – who was arrested as part of the SDSU drug ring – sold to agents, Tafreshi told the judge. He was also accused of dealing other drugs including Ecstasy, from a university parking lot across the street from Fraternity Row. He made no effort to conceal the cash he made from dealing, driving directly from one deal to a bank to deposit $400. Agents also found drugs in Watanapun’s room, the prosecutor said.
Watanapun’s lawyer, Nathan Aguilar, told the judge that Watanapun was “an exemplary student” with a grade point average above 3.0. He said Watanapun was a victim of “peer pressure and poor judgment.”
The judge ordered Watanapun held on $25,000 bail. If convicted Watanapun faces more than 5 years behind bars.
Jarrod Skippon and Joshua Matsuda both 19 were roommates. Skippon went to the university last semester and is not enrolled in the school right now. Matsuda is a freshman at Grossmont College. Prosecutors said that drugs were found in their College-area apartment. Both men pleaded not guilty to drug charges and the judge set their bail at $10,000 each.
Terrance Blackman, 19, an SDSU student, allegedly sold marijuana to a DEA agent on campus.
Aaron Heffernan,19, is accused of selling Ecstasy pills while on campus. Investigators said he was found with 300 pills and marijuana in his campus room.
Samuel Welsh, 18, allegedly sold drugs to undercover agents, telling them it was top-quality cocaine.
Nicolas Delacruz, 22, allegedly set up a meeting outside Cox Arena to make a cocaine deal. “[Delacruz] entered the DEA agents’ vehicle, he tasted the cocaine himself prior to giving it to the agents, and they consummated the sale,” said prosecutor Shawn Tafreshi.
Also arraigned were: Cory Barclay, 18; Chad Frazier, 22; James Dennis Schurr III, 21; Clynton Parsons, 20; and Thomas George Brindley, 20, Chaz Lomack, 22 and Tarek El Hadidi, 21.
They also entered not-guilty pleas and bail was set for each anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000.
Patrick Hawley, 20, was also arraigned. He was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery and selling cocaine near the campus, officials said. Hawley, who was an SDSU student at some point during the investigation, sold one-eighth of an ounce of cocaine for $120 to an undercover DEA agent. He often bragged of taking over the drug selling business from another seller, Tafreshi said. Hawley’s bail was set at $75,000.
Omar Castaneda, a 36-year-old Pomona gang member with close ties to some of the Mexican Tijuana drug cartels was also arrested in connection with the SDSU drug bust. Castaneda, who is believed to have been a lead supplier in the drug trafficking, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment. His bail was set at $150,000 in connection with the drug charges and his immigration status is also being checked.
“Castaneda was one of the main sources of supply for some of the dealers on the campus,” said Damon Mosler, narcotics division chief for the District Attorney.
The violent Tijuana drug cartel also known as the Arellano-Felix organization (AFO) has a firm and deadly hold on all drug trafficking activities in Baja and San Diego California. Their reach controls drug smuggling in Sinaloa, Jalisco, Michoacan, Chiapas and Baja, and has strong links to San Diego, California. The AFO dispenses an estimated $1 million weekly in bribes to Mexican officials, police and Mexican army officers and maintains its own-well armed, trained, paramilitary security force.
The DEA considers the AFO the most violent and aggressive of the Mexican border cartels. Here is the DEA‘s background profile on the AFO and its leaders.