Early Saturday morning Binghamton city police raided the off-campus residences of Alpha Chi Rho and Tau Alpha Epsilon fraternities, resulting in the arrest of three Greek life students, including Interfraternity Council President Zach Stein.
Members of the Binghamton Police Department’s community response team dressed in plain clothes and, posing as Binghamton University students, arrested Stein—along with Claude Fong, president of Tau Alpha Epsilon, and Matthew Opramolla, a member of Alpha Chi Rho—after paying money to enter each house and consume alcohol. The three arrested students were charged with prohibited sale of alcohol, a class A misdemeanor, according to a statement from BPD.
In a press release Tuesday, Binghamton University spokesperson Ryan Yarosh acknowledged the arrests and said that the University is conducting its own investigation into the matter.
“The University will refer to the Student Code of Conduct and the Fraternity and Sorority Governance documents to hold both individual students and the organizations accountable under University disciplinary procedures, in addition to whatever action may be taken to address criminal charges,” Yarosh said in the press release. “The University will also notify the organizational offices/representatives of the two fraternities involved.”
BU President Harvey Stenger said administrators are waiting for more information before taking further action.
“We can’t say, ‘Well, what if?’” he said. “I would rather we just be patient and we wait to hear exactly what happened rather than just what’s in the newspaper. And after we hear exactly what happened, then we’ll have conversations about what to do next.”
At an Oct. 4 meeting of campus officials, representatives of the mayor’s office and various bar owners, Binghamton police said they would “step up enforcement activities,” according to Vice President of Student Affairs Brian Rose.
“A few different safety and behavior issues were discussed including public urination in Downtown…multiple noise complaints on Riverside Drive and concerns about off campus parties where door prices were being charged and alcohol provided,” Rose wrote in an email to Pipe Dream.
Several students involved in fraternities accused State Street bar owners of encouraging police to step up their investigations of fraternity parties that are perceived as competing for business.
As a result, Bobby Ayars, president of Zeta Psi fraternity, said the members of IFC are boycotting JT’s, Tom and Marty’s and Uncle Tony’s.
“We’re boycotting those three bars,” said Ayars, a senior majoring in psychology. “We felt like we had a good business relationship with these people, and we feel we got betrayed by them.”
Larry Shea, co-owner of Tom and Marty’s, denied that the bars pushed for the parties to be raided.
Shea noted the irregularity of students arrests following police raids on fraternity parties.
“Our implication in it is frustrating to us … All of this change in policy, or in address of it, has absolutely nothing to do with the bars,” he said. “There’s always gonna be frat parties. You know, we’ve got our niche; they’ve got their niche. We overlap a little bit, but that’s just the college landscape.”
Shea, along with representatives from several other State Street bars, met this week with Stein and Panhellenic Council President Samantha Vulpis to relay what was said at the Oct. 4 meeting.
“We not only asked but we insisted that, any more of these meetings, obviously we want them to be in attendance,” Shea said. “It does put us in an uncomfortable position that frat parties are being discussed without them there if the results of those frat parties are going to now result in what resulted this weekend — arrests.”
Vulpis said she and Stein talked to bar owners about the points made at the meeting, including the lack of bathrooms Downtown and overpopulation on State Street.
“Zach and I have been meeting with the bars, and no one really anticipated it going to the point where individual people would be getting arrested,” Vulpis said. “That wasn’t anyone’s intentions, and no one really expected that to happen.”
Vulpis stressed the importance of students and bar owners collaborating.
“If we’re butting heads with the bars, then it just gives the police all the more reason to arrest more people,” Vulpis said. “If we move together, forward as a unit, we think there’s a better chance of us being able to work things out and survive, which is pretty much what everyone’s just trying to do.”
New York State’s Alcoholic Beverage Code defines prohibited sale of alcohol as selling, delivering or giving away alcoholic beverages to “any person, actually or apparently, under the age of 21 years.”
According to BPD’s press statement, “officers observed what appeared to be hundreds of obvious underage college students inside consuming alcohol” at the parties. Violations of the statute generally result in a fine. BPD declined to provide further details beyond the press statement and suggested that Pipe Dream’s freedom of information law request for the official report would be denied.
“What happened on Friday night was very unfortunate,” Stein said in statement to Pipe Dream. “I hope we can put this behind us quickly so we can get back to improving the Greek community.”
Stein declined to elaborate on the weekend’s events until his legal matters have been settled. Fong and Opramolla refused to make any public statements. The Dean of Students Office referred all media inquiries to Rose.
Rose suggested the University would not ask Stein to step down as IFC president based on the arrest.
“With regard to Zach Stein, his role as IFC President is determined by the members of the IFC and Zach himself,” Rose wrote in an email to Pipe Dream. “Zach has been a valuable contributor in our interactions with Greek leadership this year and we were both saddened and disappointed to learn of his arrest.”
Zeta Psi President Ayars said Stein should remain IFC president.
“I think he really wants to give us a good image and he’s been working diligently to accomplish that,” Ayars said. “You don’t change horses in the middle of the race.”
According to Vulpis, support for Stein’s continuation as IFC president is unanimous among Greek Life council presidents.
Stein said he does not plan to step down.
The arrests mark yet another public black eye for BU Greek Life, dampening the efforts of its members and University officials to recreate its image.
“We recognize that the process of trying to create a Greek system here at Binghamton University that we can all be proud of and that makes a significant and positive contribution in student life is going to be a long-term project,” Rose said. “I think we have a lot of work to do.”
— Daniel S. Weintraub contributed to this report.