April 13, 2008 in City

Details emerge in probe of frat

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When Washington State University announced in February that it was yanking its recognition of Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity over allegations of drug dealing and other rule violations, it said little about the case.

But a review of hundreds of pages of university and court records shows that allegations of drug dealing and witness intimidation against several former members of the fraternity grew out of a yearlong investigation by Palouse drug detectives. Most cases were resolved with plea agreements on Friday or are expected to be wrapped up next week, though Whitman County prosecutor Bill Druffel said more arrests are likely.

The main target of the probe was Christopher Smith, who was described in police reports and court records as a well-known source of cocaine among some students in the Greek system at WSU. In a written report, one officer described Smith – known as “Smitty” – as an honorary AKL, although he’s not a WSU student. Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of delivery of drugs and one count of possession with intent to deliver Friday afternoon.

As those cases have moved through the system, though, the fraternity has taken the case to court and succeeded in halting the removal of freshmen from the house until a judge can review the university’s decision.

Fraternity representatives and attorneys say the house is being scapegoated by an administration eager to crack down on wild behavior on College Hill, and that the chapter dealt swiftly with the men who were arrested, kicking them out before WSU even learned of the cases.

“There is no evidence of drug dealing at the fraternity,” said Tim Esser, attorney for AKL. “There is evidence that members of the fraternity were involved in illicit drug activity off the fraternity premises, and these people have been expelled from the fraternity.”

WSU’s Student Conduct Board came to a different conclusion Feb. 21, when it issued its findings against the fraternity, removed university recognition for five years and ordered freshmen to be moved out. The board determined the chapter was “responsible” for charges including “allowing drugs to be sold on chapter property” and “use, possession and distribution of drugs by members and chapter officers.”

Chris Wuthrich, associate director of the Office of Student Conduct, said that while it’s not unusual for his office to deal with drug cases, the AKL case was unique in its scale.

Police and university documents show that investigators considered drug use a pervasive part of the fraternity’s culture. The former members charged in the case lived off campus, some in an apartment known as the Joint; when one was arrested, he was carrying a list of money owed him for drugs by five other members, according to a police report.

One member was arrested after allegedly selling 4 grams of cocaine in an undercover sting; another was reportedly robbed at gunpoint of 4 pounds of marijuana.

“It was certainly a serious case,” Wuthrich said. “We took actions against the fraternity … because we did believe there was some group responsibility for the behavior.”

The case grew from a yearlong investigation by the Quad City Drug Task Force, a coalition of officers from Pullman, Moscow, Lewiston and Clarkston.

Smith, 22, was not a WSU student but was friends with some members of the fraternity. Photos of Smith at AKL parties were posted on the Web site Facebook.

Further, he was widely known as a cocaine dealer, especially among the Greek houses, according to police interviews and records. One police informant – a member of a sorority who said she had not done drugs or seen drug use at AKL – said he was known to many at WSU.

“Everyone on campus definitely knows who Smitty is,” she said, according to a transcript of the interview.

Her interrogator asked, “And why is that?”

“Because he sells coke,” she said.

Last fall, Smith sold cocaine twice to an informant working with police, according to prosecutors. On Nov. 15, he was arrested while parked outside the Theta Chi fraternity with vials of cocaine, a .40-caliber Beretta pistol and $1,360 cash, according to papers filed in support of criminal charges.

His arrest led to others. About two weeks later, officers arrested two members of AKL on suspicion of dealing drugs allegedly purchased from Smith. Only one of them, Brian Bloomberg, 21, has been charged. He faces two charges of dealing cocaine.

Then, in early December, two fraternity members were arrested and charged with witness intimidation, stemming from allegations that they threatened two men in a College Hill bar who they said were “snitching” on AKL and some members as police investigated the case.

Brandon Mueller, 23, and Enrique Silva, 22, each was charged with felony witness intimidation. Silva pleaded guilty Friday to a reduced charge of fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor; Mueller is scheduled to enter a plea this week.

Another AKL member, Nicholas Hupka, was arrested in December on suspicion of witness tampering and has pleaded guilty to attempted witness tampering, Druffel said.

Attempts to contact attorneys for Mueller and Silva – who have pleaded not guilty – were unsuccessful last week. Irving Rosenberg, Bloomberg’s attorney, said his client maintains his innocence and the allegations won’t stand up. “At the end of the day, we’re going to see that things aren’t as they appear now,” he said.

Smith’s attorney, Scott Staab, said that while his client was involved in illegal activity, the problem is more widespread than a single person. “It’s easy to point fingers and say he’s the central figure, we’ve got him, and it’s solved,” he said.

Esser, AKL’s attorney, argues that the chapter’s actions after the arrests should reflect well on the house. The men were kicked out, and the national organization stepped in to monitor the operation of the chapter this year.

He notes that no evidence has been presented of drug use or sales at the chapter house itself, and that the “liveout” apartments where drug activity occurred were not owned or operated by the house. The university investigation suggested a closer association between the liveouts – one of which was called the “annex” – and the main house, and noted that parties organized by the house or involving fraternity members at the liveouts were common.

The conduct board finding, though, specifically alleged that drugs had been used and sold on chapter property. Neither the court files nor university records on the case include any specific allegation of drug use or sales at the chapter house.

Attempts to contact the chair of the conduct board, Lisa McIntyre, were unsuccessful last week.

The fraternity has also challenged the university’s student disciplinary process, saying it deprived AKL members of due-process rights. Esser said the fraternity president was summoned to appear at a student conduct board hearing Feb. 13 without full knowledge of the charges, evidence or witnesses against the chapter.

“The fraternity was blindsided,” he said.

AKL appealed the decision with WSU and lost. On April 1, it filed a petition for review, asking a Whitman County Superior Court judge to review the university’s decision and make a ruling.

Until that review is complete, AKL won’t be required to move its 17 freshmen out of the house, as ordered by the university. The inability to house freshmen is one of the biggest drawbacks to losing university recognition.

Jeremy Slivinski, executive director of AKL national, said the organization wants a judge to decide: “Were we railroaded or not?”

Slivinski said the chapter’s expulsion of the three men after their arrests was evidence that its officers did the right thing. “They expelled the men before the university even knew what was going on,” he said. “The chapter did its job.”

The Student Conduct Board differed. In addition to the drug cases, the board punished the chapter for providing alcohol to underage students and other violations of the rules. In its report of Feb. 21, the board said the fraternity’s president had been “not entirely truthful” in his testimony.

An example was given regarding the charge that the chapter had furnished alcohol to minors. The president, 19-year-old Mike Wood, denied the charge. Then the board members “pointed out the photo showing you (Wood) holding an alcoholic drink,” its letter said.

Such photos – posted on Facebook – formed a critical piece of the investigation.

Fraternity representatives say the photos were used to assign guilt by association, and just because Smith knew some AKL members that doesn’t make him an “honorary” chapter member.

Photos on Smith’s Facebook page were also used to revoke his bond and issue a warrant for his arrest in January.

Smith had posted a $50,000 bond and was released. But police learned in January that Smith had put new photos of himself on his Facebook page – including one that appears to show him smoking marijuana at a ski resort with his dated lift ticket in full view.

Others showed duffel bags full of cash with captions “thanking WSU for being so good to them,” a police report says.


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