Frat's reputation is hardly brotherly
Allegations include drugging, sex assaults
By Brendan McCarthy
The Tulane University fraternity at the center of a hazing controversy has weathered several disciplinary complaints over the past several years, including allegations of sexual assaults and drugging of female students.
In March 2006, Tulane's student government group asked university officials to investigate the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity for a litany of alleged misdeeds, following complaints from several young women that they were unwittingly drugged at the fraternity's annual bacchanal. The student group also sent a letter to the fraternity's national organization, in which the Tulane chapter is chartered.
On Wednesday, Tulane officials issued a statement that acknowledged the 2006 complaint. The university said a judicial board found the fraternity "to be in violation of the Code of Student Conduct and sanctions were imposed."
The sanctions included temporarily suspending the fraternity and ordering members to complete community service, said university spokesman Mike Strecker.
But the university acknowledged it subsequently received the letter from the student government group requesting an investigation. "Apparently, there was no response from Tulane to this letter, which we regret," the university said in a statement.
The fraternity, commonly called PIKE, now faces allegations that members poured boiling water on the bodies of pledges and caked them with flour, crab boil, vinegar, cayenne peppers and wasabi sauce. The victims were treated at a local hospital with second- and third-degree burns, according to New Orleans police.
Arrest warrants were issued for 10 students on Tuesday and all had turned themselves in by Wednesday afternoon, a police spokesman confirmed.
The national fraternity organization revoked the chapter's charter and condemned the actions in a news release as "nothing short of reprehensible."
Tulane said the 10 students are still enrolled pending their legal cases. The school reiterated its statement from Tuesday, which said, "The university will not tolerate any activities that are harmful, disrespectful or dangerous to any of its students, faculty or staff."
The alleged assailants are: Joseph Lorono, 20, of Rye, N.Y.; Randall Graham, 20, of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.; Nicholas Maddern, 22, of South Hamilton, Mass.; Kevin Dunn, 20, of Bellmore, N.Y.; Jeremy Bendat, 22, of Los Angeles; Danny Lazzeri, 20, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Joseph Stevens, 23; William Dougherty, 20 of Voorhees, N.J.; Oded Nissim, 20; and Preston Gelman, 20. The hometowns of three of the arrested students were not yet available.
The status of the arrested students varied. Several were ordered held in lieu of $10,000 bail and later released on their own recognizance by several different criminal court judges. Each of the accused was booked with aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
--- Victims ordered to lie ---
On Wednesday, the front door to the PIKE fraternity house, at the corner of Zimpel Street and Broadway, was ajar and the building vacant. A tag hanging on the doorknob informed residents that the Sewerage and Water Board had cut off service because of delinquent payments. Windows were open and trash, including broken and half-full beer bottles, littered the grounds.
An arrest warrant filed in court outlines alleged hazing that took place inside the two-story house in the late hours of April 25.
The two victims, along with other members of their pledge class, entered the fraternity's house on "Hell Night" and found the lower floor sheathed in plastic, the warrant reads. The evening marked the end of the four-month pledge process and began with fraternity members pouring flour, vinegar, cayenne pepper, crab boil and extremely hot water on the pledges. Eggs were thrown at them.
When one of the victims tried to leave, the fraternity members ordered him back into the room and continued to douse him with hot water and the spices, which now included wasabi sauce. More eggs were thrown, according to the warrant.
One of the victims told police a fraternity member poured two gasoline containers filled with hot water on pledges. One of the containers was poured on his genitals, he told police.
After more than five hours, the victims were released by fraternity members and the two pledges went to a hospital for medical treatment.
"The victims were instructed by the fraternity president not to disclose what had happened and to fabricate a story," a police officer wrote in the warrant.
In a follow-up interview, one of the victims told police that he was unable to observe fraternity members doing anything to the other victim "due to the low light conditions" and the flour and crab boil in his eyes.
The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity has an infamous reputation on campus, mostly for an annual party called "Saturate," in which students are prodded to drink each of an assortment of different beverages.
In 2006, Tulane's Undergraduate Student Government organization levied serious allegations against the group and urged top school officials to investigate.
The letter, signed by the student government, focused on the Saturate" party, during which female students alleged they were drugged and possibly raped. The letter also noted that the party has "yielded horror stories of injuries ranging from concussions to lacerations and other major injuries."
The letter continued: "PIKE has gone too far in this regard, and the constant minor punishments and slaps on the wrist that Tulane's administration has decided on in the past have been highly ineffective, as the situation gets worse every year . . . The fact that PIKE's actions have continued on, largely without major consequence, is cause for unrest among students; therefore, we demand further investigation and more appropriate action."
Bryan Cole, a 2007 Tulane graduate and former vice president of the student government association, recalled Wednesday that several young women believed they were given date-rape drugs and brought the matter to the student board.
"We responded by writing a letter to the administration and to PIKE national," said Cole, 23, who attends graduate school in Boston. He said he did not remember whether the school followed up on the allegations.
PIKE is the fraternity that had an old firetruck parked alongside its house for many years. It is situated on a block of large two-story residences that house many local fraternities and sororities.
A student who lives in neighborhood said the fraternity "hazed hard" and recalled witnessing several pledge rituals.
"You could hear them yelling, '1, 2, 3, 4,' while they were being made to do push-ups," said the student, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution.
The student said pledges were made to sing aloud a pop song each time they wanted to enter the house. Those songs included Meredith Brooks' "Bitch" and Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"
One of the alleged assailants in the hazing incident, Kevin Dunn, has a previous battery conviction. Dunn and another man were booked on charges of second-degree battery and negligent injuring in March 2006 after kicking and punching another student after they got into an argument, according to court records.
Both men pleaded guilty to a negligent injuring charge in March 2007, receiving 90-day suspended sentences. Dunn neglected to pay his $374.25 fine, causing a warrant for his arrest to go out in April. His attorney, Fred King, paid the fines on Tuesday, according to court records.
The PIKE fraternity also came under fire in 1996 when one of its members killed a Tulane police officer in a hit-and-run incident. Josh Gimelstob, a standout on the university tennis team and a PIKE member, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and served six months in a boot camp program. A federal civil suit was settled when Gimelstob's family paid an undisclosed amount of money to the officer's daughter.
--- Greek community worried ---
The latest allegations have soured several members of the university's Greek community, who worry that the stereotypes of hard partying and hazing are harming their images.
"It's what we fear the most but we seem to keep playing into it," said Andrew Gibson, 20, a junior from Maryland and a member of Zeta Beta Tau.
Gibson, sitting on his fraternity house's stoop Wednesday afternoon, likened fraternity life to an airport. "Planes land and take off all the time, but only the crashes get magnified," he said.
Tulane junior Jason Harbison, 21, the vice president of the school's interfraternity council, called the hazing allegations a tragedy.
"I'm sure the legal aspect of this will play out, but my biggest fear is the impact this will have on the university and the Greek community," Harbison said.
He noted that hundreds of fraternity and sorority members volunteered recently in a program called Letters For Learning, in which students painted a local school.
"Yet these negative incidents are the only thing the community sees," he said.
. . . . . . .
Staff writer Laura Maggi contributed to this report.
Brendan McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3301.