National News

Allegations of Drug Sales and Sex Crimes Made Against John Jay Faculty

Posted September 22, 2018 11:49 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — State authorities are investigating allegations that several longtime professors at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan committed a wide range of crimes and other misconduct, according to documents and people briefed on the inquiry.

The allegations include the use and sale of drugs on campus, the attempt to coerce women into prostitution, and rape.

The criminal investigation, which is being conducted by the New York State inspector general and the Manhattan district attorney and is examining conduct dating to 2014, is in its early stages and the authorities have not independently corroborated the allegations, several of the people said.

Four of the professors have been placed on paid administrative leave, officials said. Lawyers for three of the four forcefully denied wrongdoing, with two issuing lengthy statements, an unusual response to a continuing criminal investigation.

Most of the professors named in two complaints filed with the college have been longtime fixtures in John Jay’s anthropology and sociology departments who have done extensive research on the history of drug use and prostitution.

The allegations, if proved, would suggest that a small group of faculty at the midtown campus, long the choice of police and correction officers and others in law enforcement, presided over an academic underworld. Drug use and sex were said to be common in the offices of some professors and in an area known as “the Swamp” in one of the school’s buildings.

One question looming over the investigation, two of the people briefed on it said, is why the college, which has been aware of the allegations since at least May, conducted an internal review before contacting the police or prosecutors. The college has close ties to law enforcement.

Security officers for the college, apparently in mid-August, found significant quantities of drugs and drug paraphernalia during the internal inquiry, but they did not contact the police about the seizures until this month, two of the people said.

And when they did, they turned the drugs over to the police without disclosing their inquiry or the circumstances under which they were recovered, one of the people said.

John Milgrim, a spokesman for the inspector general, Catherine Leahy Scott, confirmed that the agency, along with prosecutors in the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, was investigating the allegations.

A spokesman for Vance’s office, where sex crimes prosecutors will handle the inquiry, declined to comment.

John Jay is part of the City University of New York. A spokesman for the college, Richard Relkin, defended the school’s conduct in a statement. “The safety of the John Jay community is of utmost importance to us,” the statement said.

The statement suggested that the college had moved promptly in response to the complaints, but it was unclear whether the college had initially reported the allegations as issues related to Title IX — a federal statute that prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination — or as a possible crime.

“Throughout this ongoing investigation, we have been working under the direction of law enforcement, to ensure the appropriate authorities are aware of the situation and may take any action they deem appropriate,” the statement said.

The allegations against the professors were made in two complaints filed in May, according to copies of the documents, which were obtained by The New York Times. Although four John Jay professors were put on paid administrative leave, the complaints also include allegations against other John Jay professors.

One of the complaints was made by Claudia Cojocaru, 39, a former student who is now an adjunct professor at John Jay. She wrote that years before she came to the college she had been a sex-trafficking victim and later worked to rescue other women. The other was submitted by Naomi Haber, 24, a recent John Jay graduate.

In a phone interview Saturday night with the two women, they confirmed the allegations in their complaints and criticized the investigation conducted by John Jay. “They were incredibly rude and victim-degrading,” Cojocaru said. “They made us perform like circus animals, distorted the facts, and distorted what we talked about. They tried to brush the whole thing under the rug, so to speak. They retraumatized us by making us relive all sorts of traumatic experiences.”

The women first told their story to The New York Post, which published their account Saturday.

Their complaints detail an array of misconduct, including an allegation that a professor raped a student at a conference outside New York. That professor was not among the four who were put on paid administrative leave. And the victim identified in the complaints was neither Cojocaru nor Haber.

The four professors who were put on leave included Anthony Marcus and Richard S. Curtis, who is known as Ric and is an expert on drug markets. Both have been chairs of the anthropology department.

The other two are Barry Spunt, a former chair of the sociology department, and Leonardo Dominguez, who is an epidemiologist and adjunct professor who worked with Curtis and others on a project on opiate users.

Robert Herbst, who represents Curtis, called the allegations “false, malicious and scurrilous,” adding that Curtis is “a widely respected and highly popular professor.”

Marcus’ lawyer, Scott Simpson, said his client “adamantly denied the allegations.”

A lawyer for Spunt, Carmen Jack Giordano, said that the allegations were “vicious and defamatory” and that his client was “completely innocent.”

“It’s a shame how people with hidden agendas and nefarious intentions can manipulate the system and the public in the name of #metoo,” Giordano said.

A lawyer for Dominguez could not be reached for comment. The investigation is the latest embarrassing episode for CUNY, which has been plagued by disclosures that have come out of a long-running inquiry by the inspector general, Leahy Scott, into the university’s oversight and management.

In October 2016, Lisa Coico, then the president of the City College of New York, resigned unexpectedly after The New York Times reported that a memo concerning her personal expenses might have been doctored.

Her resignation prompted William Thompson, the chairman of CUNY’s board of trustees and a former New York City comptroller, to ask for a thorough investigation into all CUNY entities.

Not long afterward, Leahy Scott, in an unusual interim report, determined that shoddy oversight and ineffective management had created a system “ripe for abuse,” which had potentially steered money away from needy students and vital campus projects.