Rubin: Treetops vandals begin to pay the price Monday

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The tallest of the University of Michigan fraternity vandals who tore up Treetops Resort will become the first to be sentenced this morning in Gaylord.

Unless there’s a delay, Matthew Vlasic of Bloomfield Hills will learn how stiff a price he’ll have to pay for his considerable role in causing $230,000 worth of damage during a Boys Gone Wild weekend in January.

Two of his fellow miscreants are due in court Thursday, and another will be sentenced next month. There’s buzz, wholly unconfirmed, about a cell phone video.

Meantime, Otsego County prosecutor Michael Rola has a murder trial scheduled for the end of the month.

People have been stabbed in his pine-scented Northern Michigan jurisdiction. Meth labs have exploded.

“And what have people focused on?” Rola asks. “Damage at Treetops.”

It’s a valid point. Not long after the brothers of Sigma Alpha Mu went on their overprivileged preppy rampage, some local moron did $19,000 worth of damage to Gaylord businesses with a few cans of spray paint.

We don’t know his name downstate and we don’t care. We don’t know the name of the murder victim, either.

Distance is a factor, of course. It’s 236 miles from Treetops to downtown Detroit, or 221 miles to the colonial-style former home of the dissolved fraternity chapter in Ann Arbor.

Beyond that, murders are not rare occurrences. It’s unusual for Rola’s office to deal with, but we read about them every day.

Frat boys trashing hallways, commons areas and more than 50 rooms — in the company of sorority women who do nothing to stop them, and then nothing to help the police afterward — is unusual.

The incident stokes a bonfire of preconceptions, too: entitled snoots from U-M run amok, pretend to apologize, promise to hold themselves accountable, do the opposite.

Maybe it’s not the best use of our time and attention to track the progress of what ultimately are a handful of misdemeanor cases.

That’s a reasonable discussion. But let us also keep in mind that the future leaders who urinated on carpets, broke furniture and destroyed ceiling tiles were dunderheads.

Standing out

Vlasic, 22, was originally charged with a felony, malicious destruction of a building with damages between $1,000 and $20,000.

He pleaded guilty to the same crime with damages of $200 to less than $1,000, a misdemeanor.

Vlasic, who’s at least 6-foot-8, “stood out among the crowd,” Rola says.

“I don’t say that to be funny,” he continues, but witnesses couldn’t help but see Vlasic attack a ceiling.

Since he’s a first-time offender who didn’t flee or fight with police, Rola agreed to the plea bargain.

“I treat everyone the same way,” Rola says. Even the local with the spray paint wound up without a felony on his record.

Vlasic’s sentence could include a year behind bars, but “nobody expects any jail time,” says Treetops general manager Barry Owens. “The interesting thing will be his restitution figure.”

The law calls for penalties of up to three times the damages — a potentially sizeable chunk even in Bloomfield Hills.

More charges coming

Owens says the frat members did $230,000 in physical damage and cost the resort another $200,000 in lost business and maimed reputation.

He has already filed a civil suit, which Rola says has made investigation and prosecution more difficult.

Joshua Kaplan and Zachary Levin, the fraternity president and treasurer, will have plea hearings Thursday on charges of supplying alcohol to minors. A few weeks later, Jesse Krumholz will be sentenced for malicious destruction.

Rola offered a polite but emphatic no comment about murmurings of a cell phone video. He did say that while not every fraternity member inflicted damage, he expects to charge at least one more student and possibly several.

“Police agencies are following up,” he says.

It may not be a murder case, but so will we.