GU Law Student Gets Four Years for Meth
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 02:02
One man’s pursuit of a degree from Georgetown Law Center came crashing to a halt Jan. 31 when he was sentenced to four years in prison for selling methamphetamines.
Marc Gersen (SFS ’04) pleaded guilty to selling wholesale quantities of meth after police found over 500 grams of the drug in a Dec.1, 2011 deal that was intercepted by authorities.
Gersen had an experience as a Georgetown undergraduate that was defined by success. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. He won a medal in the Philodemic Society’s Hamilton Homecoming Debate in 2003. He graduated summa cum laude with a 3.91 grade point average and was recognized as one of the best economics students in his graduating class.
But for Gersen, the academic challenges of graduate school proved trying.
According to a sentencing memorandum obtained by The Hoya, Gersen began using and selling meth during his time at the University of California at Berkeley. Although he was able to attain a Masters in Economics in 2007, he was forced to abandon his Ph.D. studies.
His downward spiral started after he had issues writing his dissertation.
“Marc had never failed at anything academic before and had an emotional breakdown,” one of his parents wrote in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton. “I tried to reach out to him, but Marc didn't talk to us about his problems until it was too late. … He had already gotten involved with drugs. Our family has not been the same since.”
According to his parents, Gersen had a life filled with emotional challenges long before he had even started his undergraduate life at Georgetown. He suffered from depression and trichotillomania — a disorder that causes a person to pull out his hair — as a child and developed a stutter in sixth grade.
But Gersen was successful in masking these complexes throughout his undergraduate life and well into his graduate studies.
John Givens (SFS ’03), who was in the debate club and Delta Phi Epsilon with Gersen at Georgetown, was also at UC Berkeley to attain a Masters degree at the same time that Gersen was studying for a Ph.D.
Givens said that Gersen appeared normal while in California.
“He seemed like he was doing well,” Givens said. “An econ Ph.D. is a really tough sort of thing but it seemed like he was doing pretty well.”
Babette Wise, an assistant psychiatry professor at Georgetown, confirmed that functional addicts like Gersen are able to disguise their illness for prolonged periods of time.
“I’ve seen a lot of very intelligent, capable people who function like he did. The school and work are the last things to go,” Wise said. “They can just sort of function out there in the community and if they’re smart, that helps because even if they’re inside physically and emotionally falling apart, they can get by.”
Gersen entered a San Francisco inpatient program for his addiction while he was at UC Berkeley, but The Washington Post reported that he pleaded no contest to ecstasy possession in 2009 and was charged with drug possession in 2010.
Later that year, he enrolled in Georgetown Law Center, where he continued fighting his meth problem but managed to keep his GPA at 3.48 or higher.
“I now know that he accomplished all this while struggling — not successfully, I'm afraid — with his personal demons,” Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman wrote in a letter to the judge. “Throughout this period, he was dealing not only with the usual stresses of the first year of law school, but also with all-consuming drug addiction. He was trying desperately to get into a program that would help him and to get his life under control. His law school performance — remarkable under any circumstances — is truly incredible given the other things going on in his life.”
Georgetown Law Center Dean of Students Mitch Bailin also wrote to the judge that Gersen had already sought help by April 2011 at a D.C. drug treatment facility but relapsed in October. After police searched Gersen’s Dupont apartment during Thanksgiving break in 2011, Gersen was arrested in December, and his alleged drug network has led to charges against at least three other people, according to The Washington Post.
Although family, friends and professors testified to Gersen’s character in the defendant’s sentencing memorandum, the prosecution painted a much less sympathetic portrait of Gersen.
“What emerges from accounts of his fellow drug dealers, his customers and his own words is of a drug dealer who believed that because of his intellectual ability, he was able to outwit law enforcement and avoid detection,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Magdalena Acevedo and Patricia Stewart wrote.
Wise pointed out that while functional addicts can appear self-assured, prolonged use can cause a person’s self-esteem to decrease.
“Someone becoming an addict has nothing to do with how smart [he or she is] or how charming [he or she is],” Wise said. “The irony is that someone could become more fearful and less confident because they start thinking, ‘I need this drug,’ and then sometimes there’s a fear that someone might find out. Someone who might be fairly confident and smart in the beginning could deteriorate emotionally the longer they take it.”