Three UNC-Chapel Hill fraternities allegedly helped traffic more than $1.5 million in illegal drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and narcotics, a multi-year investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice revealed Thursday.

Twenty-one people face criminal charges for selling over a thousand pounds of marijuana, a few hundred kilograms of cocaine, and other narcotics to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. Three fraternities—Beta Theta Pi, Phi Gamma Delta, and Kappa Sigma—are alleged to have been the sites of illegal drug activity and some members are facing criminal charges.

While the total revenue from these activities isn’t yet available, the sheriff’s department says it exceeds over $1.5 million.

“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,” Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said in a statement. “We worked this case in an effort to save lives. We also wanted to protect the honor and integrity of the University of North Carolina and other institutions of higher learning. This investigation and the prosecution of those involved in the drug trade on university campuses should send a clear message that such activities will not be tolerated.”

Investigators found that the cocaine was being shipped through USPS from California to the state, while marijuana was being driven in. Cash from the drug sales was also shipped through the postal service. Another $1.3 million was sent through money orders and mobile apps like Venmo.

“No one is above the law, including college students and fraternity members at elite universities,” U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin said in a statement. “This serious drug trafficking is destructive and reckless, and many lives have been ruined. 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.”

During 2020, five people were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, eight were charged solely with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and seven more were charged with various other drug-related offenses. Of these, one defendant was in Phi Gamma Delta, one defendant was in Beta Theta Pi, and two defendants were in Kappa Sigma at UNC-CH. They then allegedly sold cocaine, marijuana, MDMA, and other drugs to other members of these organizations, according to recovered iCloud messages, GroupMe threads, and photographs obtained during the investigation.

Other college campuses and fraternities are linked to the investigation, including Appalachian State University’s Delta Chi chapter and a student from Duke University. The investigation spanned from 2017 to this spring.

The first person charged pleaded guilty to his charges on November 24 and was sentenced to six years and one month in prison, five years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. Seven people have also pleaded guilty, but won’t be sentenced until 2021.

It’s also possible that more people will be charged in this case, since the investigation is ongoing.

Those charged with the intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana face anywhere from five years in prison to a life sentence, fines up to $5 million, and supervised release of up to five years, depending on the severity of the charges and how they plead in court.  

UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz says that the university will continue working with law enforcement to address drug use on campus, although none of those charged currently attend the school.

“We are extremely disappointed to learn of these alleged actions on our campus,” Guskiewicz said in a statement. “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.”

This is a developing story. Check back here for more updates.

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