University of Virginia athletic director Richard Schultz said today that some of the city's prominent residents and athletes may be indicted by a federal grand jury that has been investigating drug dealing here since last fall.
Two people -- a former football player and a law school student -- have been indicted. Schultz said in an interview, "It is my understanding there will be other indictments, perhaps very prominent persons in the community, and those charged may include athletes."
His view was shared by Charlottesville Police Chief John (Deak) Bowen, who said separately that he also expects the grand jury to indict athletes, perhaps as early as next month.
Schultz and Bowen said they did not know who might be indicted.
Kevin A. Turner, a former member of the school's football team, pleaded guilty last month in federal court to distributing cocaine, reportedly to athletes at the school.
No other former or present athletes have been implicated publicly by name, authorities said.
Bowen said there were "big indictments to come" and "more indictments involving people in the athletic department."
Their comments came on the same day that University President Robert M. O'Neil announced that he was expanding a task force on alcohol abuse to include drug abuse.
"This is something I have been concerned about for quite some time," O'Neil said in a statement.
The president said his task force was not a reaction to the death last week of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias from cocaine intoxication or to allegations of cocaine use in Charlottesville.
The university community here has been shaken for several weeks by the investigation. Local police, who are assisting the inquiry, testified in U.S. District Court here that some law students have told them that as many as half the school's 1,100 law students may use or have at least tried cocaine.
Police Chief Bowen said today that figure is probably high, but he stressed that his officers were quoting students, some of whom were cocaine users.
The law school aspect of the investigation has focused on Ruben Dario Vahos, a third-year law student who pleaded guilty last month to distributing cocaine. Vahos, of Queens, N.Y., is free on bond awaiting sentencing July 28. Authorities here said in court that Vahos told them most of his clients were law students.
Richard Merrill, dean of the law school, said in a brief interview today that he has been assured in letters from U.S. Attorney John Alderman of Roanoke that no other student or any faculty member within the law school would face federal charges. Merrill said drug use in the school "is small," far less than in comparable schools.
The grand jury investigation began last fall after police seized 3.5 pounds of cocaine during the summer in nearby Fluvanna County. A local man involved in that case told authorities that one of his drug sources was a law student at the university.
Police Chief Bowen said today that investigation, including wiretaps of several individuals, "spread out like tentacles." He said police asked for federal help and a federal task force was formed including federal marshals, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Morgan E. Scott of Roanoke, who is handling the investigation, could not be reached for comment.
Schultz has insisted that the school address its drug problem openly. "We cannot put our heads in the sand," he said, adding that drug abuse is a nationwide problem.
The athletic department instituted random drug testing of athletes last December, although the testing will not be fully active until the fall.
Drug abuse "is very small compared to most places," Schultz said. "But if we have even one, that is not a very comforting feeling."
Schultz said no athlete has been found to be on drugs, including steroids or prescription medicines, since the testing began. He said one female athlete initially tested positive for heroin -- but a follow-up test showed her reaction to be caused by an over-the-counter painkiller.
Schultz described Turner as a "walk-on" student who came to the school without an athletic scholarship and tried out for a running-back position. His career with the university football squad was sidelined, however, by a knee injury.
University Police Sgt. William J. Morris said in court that "the majority of Mr. Turner's customers were athletes at the University of Virginia," according to the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Morris could not be reached for comment today.
Authorities said Turner, the son of an Army general, is being held without bond until his July 27 sentencing in federal court.
Chief Bowen, a former New York City narcotics officer and chief of police here for 15 years, said drug use is dramatically increasing here despite law enforcement efforts.
He said he realized that comments about drug use among the athletes and law school students are "going to cause a stir . . . because a little more is made of it than if we were dealing with the engineering school."
Bowen said the investigators are seeking dealers and not students who are casual users. "If we tried to arrest the casual user, we wouldn't have enough time to deal with it." He said usage of many drugs has leveled off or declined slightly, but not cocaine. "Cocaine is the one that's just unbelievable," the chief said.