A letter from Leland Manders, executive director of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity national organization, sheds light on the University chapter’s actions during its January 16 ski trip to Treetops Resort as well as in the weeks and months leading to the chapter’s permanent disbandment in April.
Manders sent the letter, which was obtained by the Daily, in an e-mail Friday to a listserv of University chapter alumni. He said several alumni had requested a detailed report on the status of the chapter.
In the letter, Manders said the January 16 ski trip was not the first time the fraternity had caused damage to the resort. SAM had taken the ski trip to the resort annually for several years, he said, and though past trips had resulted in damage, the costs did not reach the level of this year’s.
“In past years, there usually was some property damage, mostly to furniture, etc.,” he said. “The hotel was always immediately reimbursed for that damage in past years, and, by all accounts, that damage never exceeded $15,000. This year, several of the older chapter members got out of control.”
In January, the resort had estimated damages from this year’s trip to total $85,000 to $100,000. In March, Treetops general manager Barry Owens told Ann Arbor News the resort had increased that estimate to $430,000. Owens said the resort paid more than $230,000 for cleaning and repairs. He said an additional $200,000 accounted for lost revenue, attorneys, accounting fees and “damage to resort’s reputation.”
Manders said the damages to the resort included urinating and vomiting on carpet and other private rooms.
“The vandalism included damage to furniture, broken windows, broken light fixtures, holes in walls, six broken room doors and frames, an entire hallway ceiling (including tiles and t-track) was ripped down or damaged,” he said. “
He said some fraternity members exhibited lewd behavior to other resort guests, and over 45 rooms and several public areas required repair.
A detailed police report from Michigan State Police later stated the Treetops security team was instructed not to intervene while fraternity members were damaging the resort.
In his letter, Manders confirmed the resort is suing the University chapter for restitutions totaling more than $430,000.
Manders hinted at insurance fraud, saying the resort filed an insurance claim despite receiving payments from the fraternity.
“There have been large payments from the chapter and the insurance company, and the hotel management wants more money,” he said. “Insurance fraud is a possibility.”
Manders said chapter members who attended the trip are nonetheless financially liable for damages and restitutions.
Manders said though the fraternity initially pledged to take full responsibility and provide full restitution for their actions, they were not cooperative throughout subsequent investigations.
“Unfortunately, due to the advice of some parents and their attorneys, that’s where the chapter’s actions went off track,” Manders wrote.
Manders said the chapter officers had a list of the culprits, but refused to cooperate with authorities in subsequent investigations. He said one reason for the chapter officers’ lack of cooperation was that they were new to their positions and were intimidated by older members.
“The chapter officers had been in their respective positions of authority for only three weeks at the time of the incident, however, the outgoing officers were also in attendance at the event. The new chapter officers were sophomores. They were intimidated by other chapter members. They have reported that they tried to stop the vandalism, but were unsuccessful.” he said.
Manders said another reason chapter officers did not come forward with the list was that legal counsel advised them not to do so.
“The (chapter) officers reported to me that they do have a list of the culprits, but these officers, upon advice of counsel, have refused to cooperate with the authorities … in the investigations.”
Manders said other fraternity members were aware of the list, but were also unwilling to identify the individual fraternity members responsible for damages during the ski trip. He said the members could have feared criminal consequences. Three members of the fraternity are currently facing criminal charges for serving minors alcohol and malicious destruction.
When the national organization came to Ann Arbor to conduct an investigation, Manders said, no one in the fraternity was willing to speak about the ski trip.
“No members cooperated with any investigation, not even confidentially,” he said. “No seniors were willing to participate. The others were unwilling to discuss the Treetops incident. Some brought attorneys with them to the interview portion of the review.”
Manders said he believes the fraternity could have been saved from disbandment, had they cooperated with University officials and law enforcement during the investigation.
“The primary reason that was given by President Schlissel for the harsh discipline that was levied in this matter is the fact that our members never came forward to accept responsibility,” Manders said. “They (frankly) hid behind their parents and attorneys.”
Manders expressed his regrets, stating the chapter was 140 members strong, was a competitor academically on campus for nine straight semesters and raised thousands of dollars in philanthropic work.
“…(I)t all went down the drain due to a few drunken bad actor members, poor and inexperienced chapter leadership and bad advice from parents and attorneys,” he said. “We know from the university and the county prosecutor that the chapter could have avoided prosecution and closure if they had done ‘the right thing’.”
Manders also discussed plans for the chapter’s future. He said the board of directors will use monies seized from the fraternity’s bank account to clean and repair the former chapter house and pay any other outstanding “legitimate expenses.”
The fraternity’s national chapter will maintain ownership of the house, he said, and has plans to rent the property to Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority for the next five years. The sorority intends to take possession of the house in July.
Despite the fraternity’s permanent disbandment, Manders said he believes the chapter will return to the University.
“We will return to Michigan in the future,” he said. “We will occupy the chapter house, and we will have a fresh start at re-establishing our Fraternity and its members as one of high moral character, among the best on campus. You alumni deserve that.”