Suspended University of Akron basketball player Alex Abreu pleaded not guilty to felony drug charges at his arraignment early Friday.
Abreu, 21, stood silently with his attorney, Robert C. Meeker, during a brief appearance before Summit County Common Pleas Magistrate Matthew A. Dickinson.
Court records show Abreu was indicted on two third-degree felonies: trafficking in marijuana and possession of marijuana.
As Abreu and Meeker left the courthouse together, a Cleveland television cameraman asked about UA’s crushing loss to Virginia Commonwealth on Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a sad day for the Zips,” Meeker replied.
Abreu was the team’s starting point guard and floor leader during the Zips’ stunning regular-season run to the Mid-American Conference championship.
But on March 7, late in the afternoon following a team practice, Akron police arrested Abreu and a co-defendant after they allegedly accepted a package containing 5 pounds of marijuana, a police spokesman said.
The package had been intercepted at a local courier service, according to initial details provided by police, after a K-9 unit detected the drug during shipment. Undercover narcotics officers delivered the package to a home on East Dartmore Avenue, the residence listed by police for Abreu’s co-defendant, Austin Lee Durgala, also 21, and arrested both men.
UA officials suspended Abreu indefinitely.
Free on bond
As he stood in the cold alongside Meeker outside the courthouse Friday, Abreu said nothing. He remains free on a $5,000 signature bond with his next court appearance scheduled for 1 p.m. April 3 before Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands.
Meeker declined to comment on any details about Abreu’s arrest, except to say that he is in the process of requesting records from prosecutors.
“We’ll get discovery from the prosecutor and we’ll begin talking to them to see where it’s going,” Meeker said.
It is customary to refrain from commenting during the early stages of a criminal case, but Meeker indicated he might have something to say once he begins reviewing the police investigative findings.
“Then I’ll have a little better evaluation, see where we’re heading and maybe we’ll have some news here before too long,” he said.
In Abreu’s indictment, he also is facing a “forfeiture specification.” It shows police seized $180 from Abreu in what was described as “property” derived from “any proceeds that the person obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the felony drug abuse offense.”
Under Ohio law, conviction on a third-degree felony charge carries a potential maximum prison sentence of three years.
Durgala also remained free on a $5,000 signature bond after his arraignment Friday in a separate court proceeding. He pleaded not guilty to a second-degree felony charge for trafficking in marijuana, accompanied by a forfeiture specification, and an additional felony for possession of marijuana.
His indictment states that police seized $700 from him under the same “property” allegations contained in Abreu’s indictment.
After Friday’s court proceedings, Meeker also discussed his representation of Abreu, declining to say how much he is being paid. He cited attorney-client privacy obligations.
He did say it is not a “pro bono” case, in which a lawyer works voluntarily without payment.
“If there is a question relating to whether the university, or anyone at the university, or anyone associated with the university, is paying my fee, the answer is no,” Meeker said.
“I’m very aware of the [NCAA] rules,” he said, “and I would never let that happen. It’s bad enough that the basketball program has to go through this, let alone have another problem.”
Dallas Moyer of the UA sports communication office said school officials are reviewing the situation and will continue to monitor it to ensure compliance with NCAA rules. He said a university is permitted to assist a student-athlete in finding legal representation, and that is what was done in Abreu’s case.
A university is not permitted, Moyer said, to cover legal fees incurred by a student-athlete unless it is for a matter that concerns eligibility, which Abreu’s situation does not.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.