UM Student’s Powdered-Sugar Prank Goes Horribly Wrong, Ends in Felony Arrest

Update: The charges against Jonathan Harrington were dropped on September 29 after a lab confirmed the powder was not cocaine.

Inside the University of Miami’s dorms, administrative searches are commonplace, and students are warned days ahead of time so they can get rid of their bongs, beer bottles, and hotplates beforehand.

Last month, Jonathan Harrington thought he’d have some fun with the search. Before inspectors arrived, the 21-year-old English major left lines of white powder on the coffee table and kitchen counter, a rolled-up dollar bill, and seven white pills. Because the lines were just powdered sugar and the pills aspirin, Harrington figured everyone would get a good chuckle out of it and move on.

Instead, Harrington ended up handcuffed, dragged to jail, and charged with felony cocaine possession.

“It was indeed powdered sugar — 23.7 grams of the finest you can buy at Publix. I know the amount from the police report,” Harrington insists. “I doubt they’d believe me. To them it is more plausible that I left $1,500 worth of cocaine strewn around my apartment.”

The trouble began August 30 when housing officials discovered Harrington’s stash and — following protocol — phoned University of Miami Police to test the powder and pills. That’s when Harrington busted in and, according to the police report, said, “I guess you guys are here about the powdered-sugar prank!”

Police noted the white tablets were indeed marked as aspirin. But when they tested the white powder, it came back positive for cocaine. Harrington was arrested on the spot and spent the night and following day in jail, sleeping on hard plastic chairs and eating ham sandwiches.

What exactly happened? Harrington insists the drug field test yielded a false positive.

It’s not impossible. In fact, the quick drug tests used in the field are notoriously wonky. In 2009, a Kissimmee man was arrested after the breath mints in his car tested positive for crack cocaine. In 2011, a birdwatcher in Weston was arrested when her sage tested positive for marijuana. In 2013, police cuffed a 25-year-old Coney Island man after his Jolly Rancher candies tested positive for methamphetamine. In February, a Minnesota man was arrested when his vitamin powder tested positive for amphetamines.

Harrington’s roommate, Kritos Vasiloudes, backs up his story of a powdered-sugar prank. Vasiloudes told police that Harrington tipped him off about the prank and that he agreed to go along. But Vasiloudes says he was studying in his room when Harrington staged the scene.

For now, Harrington faces arraignment next week on one felony count of cocaine possession, which carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. At UM, he faces suspension but says those proceedings have been paused until the court matter is settled.

But he’s confident that a more sophisticated lab analysis will confirm his side of the story. Coral Gables PD says the powder has been sent to a lab but could take up to two months to process.

“I’m hoping the prosecutor’s office will drop it once they realize their error,” Harrington says.
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson