The first of two UCSB graduate students suspected of conspiring to manufacture, possess, and sell Ecstasy (MDMA) was arraigned Friday in the Santa Barbara Superior Court.
On May 2, Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney Lee Carter filed charges against Chemistry Dept. graduate students David Woodmansee and Alvaro Mercado for sale of a controlled substance: Ecstasy, possession for sale of Ecstasy, and conspiracy to manufacture and sell Ecstasy. Mercado, whose arraignment is today, has an additional charge of grand theft by embezzlement, since he used his research grant money to purchase the ingredients for producing the drug.
All four charges are felonies. Woodmansee will go to a settlement conference June 17, where he can plead guilty and hope the court gives him a light sentence, or try to negotiate a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office.
According to UC Police Dept. Capt. Bill Bean, Mercado used grant money from the National Institutes of Health to purchase the chemicals to make Ecstasy. Bean said Woodmansee then gave the ingredients to an unidentified person, who may have been in the Bay Area, to make the final product.
Mercado purchased the chemicals four times starting in November 2000 through the UCSB Chemistry Dept., police said.
Woodmansee’s settlement negotiation for this case would take into account the quantity of drugs involved, past offenses, the safety of the community and other factors, Carter said.
“Quite a number of considerations go into a plea negotiation,” Carter said. “He could plead guilty and throw himself at the mercy of the court, or they could work out a negotiated plea.”
During his arraignment, Woodmansee waived his right to a speedy trial by consenting to extend the date for a preliminary hearing through the end of July, instead of within 10 days of the arraignment. Woodmansee was released on recognizance, meaning he will not be put in jail, but must voluntarily show up at his next court date.
If Mercado also decides to have his case proceed to a settlement conference, both defendants will most likely attend the same conference, Carter said. But if he decides to have a preliminary hearing, it will take place separately from Woodmansee’s.
Mercado was arrested on March 1, after police investigated the case for two months and obtained a search warrant to enter Mercado’s Goleta residence. He was most likely released from the Santa Barbara County Jail the next day, although jail officials are unable to comment on when or how suspects are released.
The investigation began in January after six Chemistry Dept. graduate students expressed concerns to their department chair, Stanley Parsons, that a fellow graduate student had drugged them. Parsons then relayed the information to police.
“I believe that they feel they have been drugged,” Bean said after the case was made public two weeks ago. “But we were unable to establish any of those instances which happened over the course of a year for criminal prosecution.”
An anonymous Chemistry Dept. faculty member said the materials Mercado needed for conducting his research were “nothing like what he was actually buying,” and that Mercado had much more personal authority over his research money than most grants allowed for.
“He wasn’t really the most engaged graduate student,” the faculty member said. “I was worried about his success in grad school a long time before this happened. He really didn’t accomplish all that much in his research, which in retrospect isn’t all that surprising.”