3 UM frat members face charges in ski resort vandalism

Kim Kozlowski and Derek Draplin
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Three Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity members at the University of Michigan are facing criminal charges in connection with the January destruction of 45 rooms at Treetops Resort in Gaylord.

On Friday, Otsego County Prosecutor Michael A. Rola issued charges against the fraternity's president, treasurer and one other member. Others may be charged in the future when further information becomes available, Rola said.

Warrants have been authorized against the president and treasurer on charges of providing a premise for drug and alcohol consumption by minors — a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or 30 days in jail.

The third member is being charged with felony malicious destruction of property, Rola said. That is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

"The hope is to have all the people involved in the damage to be held accountable," Rola told The News. "It serves the community. It serves the individuals and the university itself to hold people who did it ... accountable so things will move on."

The charges stem from a weekend in January at the northern Michigan ski resort during which fraternity members broke windows and damaged furniture, light fixtures and more. Resort officials estimated there was $230,000 in actual damages and upwards of $200,000 in management time and reputation damage.

Sigma Delta Tau sorority members were with the fraternity that weekend but none was charged.

Nobody answered when a reporter knocked at the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house earlier Friday. Fraternity President Joshua S. Kaplan, who issued an apology in the wake of the incident, could not be reached for comment.

John Minock, a lawyer who represents Kaplan and the treasurer of the fraternity, said, "My clients are charged under a statute intended to cover conduct such as parents who allow underage drinking at teen parties. The statute requires that those charged had the authority to control the conduct of others.

"In the case of a hotel with over 200 college student guests, who had the authority to control guest behavior, the staff of the hotel, or just another 19-year-old guest?"

Treetops officials said earlier Friday they were pleased by the news that charges would be forthcoming.

"Since Day One, we had complete confidence that the Michigan State Police and the prosecuting attorney would conduct a thorough investigation," Barry Owens, general manager of Treetops Resort, said in a statement. "We appreciate their efforts and are happy to hear that charges are being brought forward."

Bobby Dishell, UM's student body president, said: "I'm happy to see the county is holding individual members accountable for their actions ... Everyone has faults, everyone has flaws, but there's a difference between spilling a drink and having to replace the carpet because you stained the carpet and malicious damage and malicious intent."

The students also could face penalties at UM, university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. Penalties can range from education to expulsion.

"There is nothing that is automatic," Fitzgerald said. "Everything is individual, so it will depend on what information about what individuals we have and how to move forward ... We've said all throughout, we wanted information and accountability."

The Jan. 17-18 incident occurred the same weekend two other UM fraternities and two sororities were at Boyne Highlands Resort, about 50 miles northwest of Gaylord in Harbor Springs, where damage also was reported on a smaller scale.

Boyne reported broken doors, holes in the walls and damage to light fixtures, carpeting and more. Those involved were Pi Kappa Alpha and Chi Psi fraternities and Alpha Phi and Delta Gamma sororities.

Following the two incidents and a hearing at UM, university officials announced last month they will not recognize Sigma Alpha Mu for at least four years. They also placed Sigma Delta Tau sorority on disciplinary suspension.

The university also issued lesser sanctions against Pi Kappa Alpha and Chi Psi fraternities and Alpha Phi and Delta Gamma sororities.

Not everyone agreed with the charges. Tom Allen, president of Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, said it's hard to pinpoint individual behavior.

"Nobody really knows who did what damage," said Allen, a UM sophomore. "So if people are going to press charges against individuals it's going to be arbitrary who gets the charges and who doesn't."

The criminal charges come three days after national officials at Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity decided to close the chapter. Members must move out of the house by May 3.


Staff Writer Derek Draplin and Robert Snell contributed.