Students fret over Venmo payments to alleged drug dealer

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Columbia University. (Columbia University)
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Columbia University students are bugging out over the arrest of a student on drug charges who they say accepted payment through the social payment application Venmo.

Why are they fretting? Venmo is the opposite of cash: every transaction is shared publicly by default. And the requesting party has to write a brief description of the transaction.

He had a rule, one student told Capital: “The description has to be funny.”

The alleged dealer is Michael Getzler, a sophomore English major. New York police arrested him yesterday.

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Payments to Getzler recorded on his Venmo page had a wide variety of descriptions. “Halal or something funny,” wrote one buyer in a transaction description. Some others: “Kale salad.” "Snoop Dogg's shizzle." One description, "Columbia in 1980s," referred to a cult Columbia stoner film.

A representative for Venmo would not respond specifically to the question whether they were helping police with their investigation into Getzler, but wrote in an email to Capital: "We work collaboratively with law enforcement when appropriate to help ensure that Venmo is a safe place to send and receive money."

Getzler declined to comment for this article.

A representative for Columbia said that the university does not comment on police matters.

Two days ago a student identifying himself as a drug dealer wrote an anonymous op-ed in the Columbia Daily Spectator, saying that he planned to quit dealing after the school's annual concert this Saturday, Bacchanal.

“Weed, edibles, MDMA, coke—I have sold all of these over the past week, in staggering amounts,” the anonymous student wrote. "Several hundred students (and I would call that a conservative estimate) will be smoking my weed this Saturday. There will be more than 100 students rolling on MDMA, thanks to me alone."

Getzler was widely rumored to be the anonymous author of the op-ed in comments on the Spectator website and on a private and anonymous digital message board at Columbia. Capital could not confirm that Getzler was the author; but the op-ed does open a window on the life of a campus drug dealer at Columbia.

“Fraternity brothers, artists, athletes, timid first-years (easily discernable by the almost deferential manner in which they speak to me), jaded seniors, GS students, [student council] members, resident advisors, Spectator writers, a couple of my own TAs, and probably someone from every sizable demographic on campus—they have all come to me in the last few days for their various fixes. And I love every second of it,” the student wrote.

“I find something so fulfilling and exciting in being the person that people rely on for fun. ... And yet, despite how exhilarating a ride it has been, I’m calling it quits. ... if any law enforcement group were to turn its focus back on our campus, I would be a top target."

Narcotics officers arrested Getzler yesterday at 2:40 p.m., according to court records. The Spectator reported the arrest first.

Getzler is charged with two felonies, a police spokesperson told Capital: current possession of a controlled substance in the third and fifth degrees. He’s also charged with two non-felony counts of criminal use of drug paraphernalia, criminal possession in the seventh degree, and unlawful posession of marijuana.

Columbia last made headlines for drugs in 2010, when five students were arrested in a police sting, "Operation Ivy League."

Editor's note: This article was updated from its original version to reflect that Getzler returned a message from Capital and declined to comment for this article.