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A Harvard undergraduate was arraigned on felony drug charges in Cambridge District Court Thursday after police allegedly found 16 bags of psilocybin mushrooms in his Mather House dorm.
If convicted on all three charges, Robert C. Schaffer ’05 faces a minimum jail term of two years and a cumulative maximum prison sentence of 22 years.
Associate Justice George Sprague of the Cambridge District Court set bail at $350 in cash or a $3,500 surety bond. Schaffer was released on bail Thursday.
Schaffer was arraigned on charges of possession of psilocybin with the intent to distribute—which carries a maximum sentence of five years—and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, which carries a maximum sentence of two years.
Because Schaffer’s Mather Tower residence is less than 1,000 feet from the Martin Luther King Jr. School on Putnam Avenue, Schaffer was also charged with a drug violation in a school zone.
Under Massachusetts law, possession of a controlled substance in a school zone with the intent to distribute carries a mandatory minimum jail term of two years and a maximum sentence of 15 years.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Schaffer was distributing drugs to the King School at this time,” said Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) spokesperson Steven G. Catalano. However, suspects need not distribute to children—or even be aware that they are inside a school zone—to be convicted under the Massachusetts Controlled Substances Act.
Officers arrived at Schaffer’s room late Wednesday night after a Mather resident called to complain about the smell of marijuana in the 12th floor hallway, Catalano said. He would not say whether the resident was a student or a tutor.
HUPD Officer Thomas F. Karns Jr., in an incident report filed Thursday morning, said he found the hallway door open and spoke with 12th floor resident Joshua Z. Steinberger ’03-’04.
Steinberger said he invited Karns to search his room. But Karns declined Steinberger’s offer, according to the report, because “the odor of marijuana did not appear to be emanating from [Steinberger’s room].”
Karns said he and HUPD Officer Steven Fumicello then knocked on Schaffer’s door, “where the odor of marijuana was at its strongest.” Schaffer agreed to let both officers into his room, Karns said.
According to Karns’ report, Schaffer then opened a desk drawer and handed Karns what appeared to be a bag of marijuana. “I noticed there were several clear plastic baggies in the drawer that [Schaffer] had taken the marijuana out of,” Karns wrote.
In total, Karns reported that he confiscated 45 clear plastic bags containing leafy and herb-like substances, as well as a foil bag marked “Betel Nut Smart Chew.”
Karns also seized a blue purse holding “an off-white waxy substance that was in flakes and a solid yellow chunk of an unknown substance,” according to the report.
Officers additionally confiscated a pipe, a 200-gram weight and scale, a large black hunting knife, a small box of rolling papers, a bag of potting soil and a hydroponics grow kit, according to the Karns’ report.
“It was clear from the way the drugs were packaged that it was possession with the intent to distribute,” Catalano said.
Police cannot make on-the-spot arrests on marijuana charges unless the quantity possessed by a suspect exceeds 50 lbs., Catalano said.
“Regardless of how much marijuana Mr. Schaffer had, nothing was going to prevent us from charging him with possession with intent to distribute,” Catalano said. But if Schaffer only possessed marijuana, police would have to obtain a summons before making an arrest.
The officers left the scene without taking Schaffer into custody.
When Karns returned to HUPD headquarters, he consulted a reference source to identify the unknown substances confiscated from Schaffer’s room. “In my opinion, the substance I confiscated from the drawer of Robert’s desk...was psilocybin,” Karns wrote.
Psilocybin is a Class C drug under Massachusetts’ Controlled Substances Act, allowing police to arrest Schaffer without a summons.
Karns said he and HUPD Sergeant Daniel Brown arrested Schaffer shortly before 5 a.m. on Thursday morning.
Mather House officials did not return requests for comment. Schaffer declined comment.
According to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Handbook for Students, “when court action is pending or in progress, the Administrative Board may delay or suspend its own review process, in recognition of the student’s criminal defense interests.”
Schaffer was recruited by Harvard in 2001 to play tailback on the football squad, but quit the varsity team in January 2003.
He withdrew from classes last March and moved to Paris to improve his sketch artwork. “I stopped playing because I found myself no longer able to suppress my creative capacities,” Schaffer wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson last year.
Schaffer was formerly internal vice president of the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha, but has been “incommunicado” with the group for about a year, said Raymond E. Hill ’05, president of the fraternity.
“The news of the arrest came as a complete shock to me,” said Joelle Hobeika ’05, who identified herself as Schaffer’s ex-girlfriend. “In all the time I’ve known him, he’s been an incredibly upright and responsible person,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson.
“The only way I can rationalize the incident is as a brief, though major, lapse in judgement. I can only hope the consequences won’t be long-term,” Hobeika said.
“Rob is one of the most moral people I know. I feel as though what he is going through has been very undeserved,” said Sadie Robins-Murov ’05, who said she is a friend of Schaffer. “A lot of people are really upset and angry about this.”
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at email@example.com.
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