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Two former Appalachian State students plead guilty for role in illegal drug operation that resulted in $1.5 million in sales at three universities, including Appalachian State.

Two former Appalachian State students plead guilty for role in illegal drug operation that resulted in $1.5 million in sales at three universities, including Appalachian State.

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Two former Appalachian State University students pleaded guilty this week for their role in an illegal drug ring that garnered more than $1.5 million in sales across three different universities, including Appalachian State, according to federal court records.

The two, who were enrolled at Appalachian State at the time of the offenses, were among 21 people who were facing federal drug charges. They were accused in connection with an illegal drug ring that operated at or near Appalachian State, UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University, authorities said in December.

Kyle Parrish Beckner, 22, of Boone, and Devin James McDonald, 23, of Kill Devil Hills, entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court on Wednesday through a Zoom conference. Beckner pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute LSD. McDonald pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine. 

Both men are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court on Sept. 1 for sentencing. Beckner faces a possible sentence of 20 years in prison and at least a $1 million fine. McDonald faces up to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine. 

Cheryl Andrews, attorney for McDonald, said McDonald is a fine young man. He has no previous criminal record. 

"This is an unfortunate situation that happened in his life, and we look forward to resolving it," she said Friday. "He has the support of his friends and his family." 

Andrews said McDonald is still seeking to complete his college degree.

Chad Axford, Beckner's attorney, did not immediately return a message Friday seeking comment. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the alleged drug sales involved members of several fraternities at the three schools. The Justice Department alleged that McDonald and 19 other defendants funneled more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana, several hundred kilograms of cocaine and large quantities of other drugs to the three college campuses. Court documents allege that the defendants shipped cocaine from California using the U.S. Postal Service and transported marijuana by vehicles.

The defendants also are accused of shipping money from the illegal drug sales through the postal service. About $1.3 million in drug money changed hands through money orders, Western Union and mobile payment applications, the Justice Department alleged. 

Court documents revealed that, last summer, a cooperating defendant identified an Appalachian State University student and member of the Delta Chi fraternity in Boone as a known distributor of controlled substances to other ASU students, the Justice Department said.

Beckner is accused of selling 1,000 doses of LSD to the informant in August for $3,000 in the parking lot of a Chapel Hill restaurant. Investigators said that, in October 2019, they bought an ounce of cocaine from McDonald, another Appalachian State student, after McDonald was identified by a cooperating source as someone who distributed cocaine to other ASU students, the Justice Department said.

The investigation revealed a dangerous fraternity culture at Appalachian State, UNC and Duke, Matthew Martin, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, said in a statement in December. 

"University administrators and national chapters cannot turn a blind eye to the impact on these students and the environment on their respective college campuses," Martin said. "The drug culture feeds many other problems on campus and in our society. University administrators must take a stand and put a stop to it."

In a statement, Appalachian State University said in December that it's fully cooperating with the investigators in this matter.

Appalachian State has no on-campus fraternity houses, and university officials issue a report twice a year on the status of recognized fraternities and sororities.

"We are committed to providing a safe campus, and will continue our work with education and prevention, as well as utilizing student conduct and law enforcement processes, to do so," the university said.

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@mhewlettWSJ

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