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Students ordered held in case of suspected drug lab at Georgetown

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 12:14 AM

Charles Smith and John Perrone sat quietly together in U.S. District Court on Monday, each 18, pale and slender in powder-blue pants and smocks that looked like hospital scrubs. Authorities, worried about chemical contamination, had confiscated their clothing after arresting them Saturday on suspicion of manufacturing an esoteric LSD-like drug in a freshman dorm room at Georgetown University.

Both men, academic high-achievers from a tony Boston suburb, were ordered to remain behind bars for two more days. A third student, Smith's roommate, who was also arrested in the case, was released after authorities chose not to prosecute him.

In a court affidavit made public Monday, investigators said the alleged drug lab, involving several "highly flammable and explosive" chemicals, was the work of Smith, a freshman in the School of Foreign Service, and his high school classmate Perrone, a liberal arts freshman at the University of Richmond.

The two friends, each with tangled brown hair and not the faintest shadow of a facial whisker, live a mile apart in Andover, Mass., and graduated from Andover High School on the honor roll last spring. They spent Saturday and Sunday in the D.C. police department's central lockup.

Their attorneys said the two should be released on bail. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson sided with prosecutors, who wanted them held in the D.C. jail until a detention hearing set for Wednesday. The two could be ordered back to jail after that hearing, which will involve police testimony about the alleged drug lab.

Neither student entered a plea Monday, and their attorneys declined to comment.

Investigators said Smith and Perrone used chemicals and other substances to make the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, in Smith's top-floor room in the nine-story Harbin Hall. Smith had been living in Room 926 of the freshman dorm since arriving at Georgetown on the last weekend of August.

On its Web site, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says that "human experience with DMT probably goes back several hundred years, since DMT usage is associated with a number of shamanic practices and rituals." The substance occurs naturally in some plants. In 1931, a British chemist figured out how to produce it synthetically.

Officials described it as LSD for people in a hurry.

The final product is a crystal substance that can be ground into powder, and it is often snorted or mixed with marijuana and smoked. "The intense effects and short duration of action are attractive to individuals who want a psychedelic experience" but not the hours-long, mind-altering experience provided by LSD, according to the DEA. "Psychological effects include intense visual hallucinations, depersonalization, auditory distortions and an altered sense of time and body image."

A law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing, said the lab had not been discovered because of an odor in the dorm, as was initially reported over the weekend.

The official said the case began to unfold early Saturday, when a campus police officer saw a student standing outside Harbin Hall smoking what the officer thought was marijuana. After being confronted, the student said the substance was "K2," or K2 summit, a product known as "synthetic marijuana" that is sold in head shops.

K2, which is legal in the District and other jurisdictions, is crushed green leaves sprayed with chemicals. When smoked, it produces a marijuana-like high.

When the officer asked where the student had obtained the substance, the student led the officer to Room 926, the official said. He said the investigation proceeded from there, resulting in the three arrests and the evacuation of about 400 people.

Smith's roommate, John Romano, 18, a liberal arts student from central Long Island, N.Y., answered the door when officers arrived, according to the affidavit, which says that police "received authorization to search" the room.

They found "zip locks containing a green plant substance, a carbon dioxide cannister, homemade smoking devices, a grinder, a jar containing a red liquid substance, and a Styrofoam cooler with dry ice and several jars containing a clear liquid substance," plus ammonia, salt, lighter fluid, rubber gloves and a turkey baster, the affidavit says.

Perrone, visiting from the University of Richmond, was in the room, authorities said.

The law enforcement official said that five small pill capsules containing suspected DMT were also found. He said users often hide DMT in ordinary capsules, then break them open and sprinkle the drug on marijuana before smoking it.

He said police think the carbon dioxide was being used for "huffing," a way to get high through oxygen-deprivation by breathing only carbon dioxide. He said officers suspected that the "green plant substance" was synthetic marijuana, for use with DMT.

The official said police searched Perrone's Nissan, parked outside the dorm, and found several empty capsules with traces of suspected DMT. He said officers also found a box made for a dozen Mason jars, with one jar in it. That jar matched the 11 Mason jars found in Smith's room, six of them filled with chemicals, the official said.

He said Smith told police Saturday that Romano, his roommate, was not involved in any illegal activity. Romano was taken into custody, but by Monday, authorities had decided not to prosecute him.

Smith and Perrone were each charged with one count of conspiracy to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute DMT.

A Georgetown official said Smith and Romano apparently met during freshman orientation in late August. Romano's attorney declined to comment on the case.

A hazmat team from the D.C. fire department spent hours examining the building Saturday before allowing students to return to their rooms. Julie Green Bataille, a Georgetown spokeswoman, said officials will decide Smith's future in a confidential proceeding governed by the university's code of conduct.

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis and staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

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