A Question of Justice

Three young men, two coke deliveries, one prison sentence

Two days later, Peter and Preston turned themselves in as part of a prearranged deal. Their parents and lawyers accompanied them to the police barracks, then to the town courthouse. Both students were arraigned on a B-level felony. If convicted, they would receive at least one to three years in prison. Afterward, they were released to their parents.

Peter and Preston had known each other for years; they attended Collegiate School together on the Upper West Side. News of their arrest buzzed around Hamilton College. Sophomore Ian Mandel, an editor at The Spectator, the school paper, tracked them down in their dorm rooms. Neither wanted to talk. The paper published their photos on the front page under the headline "Hamilton Students Arrested for Cocaine Possession."

Peter's father, Kevin McEneaney, is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Phoenix House, the nation's largest nonprofit drug-treatment provider. He hired a top defense lawyer from Syracuse for his son. Philip Kraus, Preston's father, is a plumbing contractor; his company contributes to the state Republican Party. The Kraus family retained Dennis Vacco, the former New York State attorney general, to handle Preston's case. At the time, Vacco had just joined the Albany lobbying firm where William Powers, former chairman of the state Republican Party, was a partner. The firm's clients included the union for the New York State Troopers—the same agency that had arrested Preston and Peter.

Ashley O’Donoghue, now 21, inside Clinton Annex, a maximum-security prison near the Canadian border
photo: Michael Betts
Ashley O’Donoghue, now 21, inside Clinton Annex, a maximum-security prison near the Canadian border

Since Peter and Preston were 18, they qualified for youthful offender status, known as "Y.O." status, which means they were eligible for a reduced punishment. A judge granted them this status, and their records were automatically sealed. The prosecutor who oversaw this case refuses to reveal exactly what deal was hammered out.

Peter and Preston left Hamilton College. Because they received Y.O. status, they're not obligated to tell future employers or college admission officers about their arrest. They can truthfully say they do not have a criminal record.

Ashley grew up on East 28th Street in Manhattan. His mother works as an editor at a glossy magazine; his father is a part-time chef and a superintendent at two apartment buildings. Ashley attended public schools and was in and out of special-ed programs starting in second grade. A doctor diagnosed him with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. He attended three high schools before dropping out altogether.

In the summer of 2003, Ashley's family moved to a small town near Poughkeepsie. His parents asked him to join them, but he wanted to stay in the city. At the time, his parents didn't know he was dealing cocaine. Ashley, who is black, was selling to a few dozen people, all of them white—prep school kids, college students, a stockbroker, a banker. According to Ashley, he got the coke from a dealer in Washington Heights.

Ashley's customers knew him by his a/k/a, "Will." They called his cell phone all night long, and he'd take cabs around the city making deliveries. Some calls came from kids at clubs, like Lotus or Bungalow 8. Other customers called from their loft apartments in Tribeca, wanting coke for their parties. Whenever Ashley arrived, he was the most popular guest. "Oh my God, it's Will!" somebody would shout. "Hey, Will, you want some sushi?"

From the 2003 Hamilton College facebook: 18-year-old freshmen Preston Kraus (top) and Peter McEneaney
According to Ashley, he had been selling coke for about six months when he was arrested. By then he was 20, two years too old to qualify for Y.O. status. The police originally charged him with possession, but a grand jury indicted him for a sale. Since more than two ounces were involved, this was an A-1 felony. If he went to trial and lost, he would receive at least 15 years to life.

His parents hired a well-known attorney in Utica. Cheri O'Donoghue, Ashley's mother, says the lawyer had little empathy for Ashley. "It's the smut from the city who come up here and do these things," Cheri says the attorney told her. He denies saying "smut," but he acknowledges the family didn't like his "bedside manner." Cheri fired him and hired a Manhattan attorney, Lawrence Dubin.

Dubin began making regular trips to Oneida County. He submitted a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the police had unlawfully arrested and searched Ashley. He visited Hamilton College to try to persuade the dean to intervene. Neither effort worked. He didn't know the names of the students who had set up Ashley, or he might have contacted them. He asked Ashley if he would consider working with the police, but Ashley had no interest in becoming a snitch.

The details of Ashley's case—his age, his lack of a criminal record, the prospect of spending the rest of his twenties in prison—bothered Dubin."I felt really bad, horrible," he says. "This was a very nice family."

A judge set bail for Ashley at $100,000, and on December 16, his family got him out, putting up his grandparents' house in California as collateral. Back in Manhattan, Ashley tried to make the most of his borrowed time. He wrote a letter to Russell Simmons asking for help. He worked with his father, cleaning hallways and renovating bathrooms. He spent weekends with his girlfriend at his family's house.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
New York Concert Tickets