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First Choate Drug Smuggler To Be Sentenced

November 12, 1985

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ The first of two former Choate Rosemary Hall students who admitted flying to Venezuela to buy cocaine last year faces sentencing Wednesday on federal drug charges.

Derek Oatis, 19, of Meriden, pleaded guilty on Sept. 26 to one count of importing cocaine and could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and fined $25,000.

He and his former girlfriend, Catherine N. Cowan, 19, of Little Rock, Ark., were arrested on April 23, 1984, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, sparking a federal investigation that has resulted in the arrests of 17 former students at the exclusive private school in Wallingford. Miss Cowan is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.

All the former students have pleaded guilty. All except Oatis and Miss Cowan pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of aiding and abetting in the possession of cocaine. The 11 students sentenced so far have received one-year probation terms, fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 and have been ordered to spend up to 300 hours working in community service.

Former U.S. Attorney Alan H. Nevas has said eight more former Choate students helped finance the trip. Negotiations for their possible surrender have been under way for several weeks, he said.

Oatis was to appear Wednesday before U.S. District Judge T.F. Gilroy Daly. Miss Cowan pleaded guilty to the same felony charge as Oatis.

According to a complaint filed by the government against the pair, Oatis was a close friend of another former Choate student, Matthew R. Holmes, 19, whose parents live in Caracas, Venezuela. Holmes had brought cocaine back to Choate with him five times between the summer of 1982 and December 1983, according to the government.

Oatis often would be given cocaine to sell to schoolmates.

In March 1984, according to the complaint, Oatis accompanied Holmes on a trip to Caracas, where the two bought $3,000 worth of cocaine. Oatis later smuggled 200 grams back to the United States, hiding it in an empty bottle of talcum powder in his shaving kit.

Returning to school after Oatis, Holmes discovered that Oatis and his friends had used about 50 grams of the cocaine and became angry about the shortage, the complaint said. Holmes then suggested that Oatis make another trip himself.

During the week before Oatis and Miss Cowan left for Caracas, the two, with Holmes’ help, collected about $5,000 from at least 23 schoolmates, with Miss Cowan keeping the money in her dormitory room, the government said.

Upon the pair’s return to New York, Oatis was searched and found to be carrying 350 grams of cocaine, according to authorities. He was arrested on New York state charges, but federal charges were filed later.

Holmes, who is believed to be in Venezuela, has not been arrested but a warrant has been issued for his arrest. The warrant charges him with violating at least four federal drug statutes.

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