Penn State

Frat alum files suit against Beta Theta Pi on behalf of members

Penn State and Beta Theta Pi alumnus Donald Abbey has sued the Alpha Upsilon chapter for fiduciary breaches that he says led to Timothy Piazza’s death.
Penn State and Beta Theta Pi alumnus Donald Abbey has sued the Alpha Upsilon chapter for fiduciary breaches that he says led to Timothy Piazza’s death. Centre Daily Times, file

Donald Abbey is suing his fraternity again. This time, he’s doing it on behalf of all of his “brothers.”

The Penn State and Beta Theta Pi alumnus had already filed a suit against the Alpha Upsilon chapter alleging breach of contract for millions he says are owed for money he put into the fraternity, money that he says was forfeited when the chapter was banned by the university after the death of pledge Timothy Piazza, 19, in February.

A new suit filed Nov. 28 was filed against the individual members of the board of directors of the fraternity’s housing corporation — the alumni members who run the business of the house and pay the bills.

District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller introduced new charges against members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity after the recovery of basement surveillance footage inside the frat house during the night of frat pledge Timothy Piazza’s death. The paren

In this suit, Abbey is listed as the plaintiff, but the suit says he is also suing on behalf of the chapter, which is named as a nominal defendant, too.

The new suit does more than claim the fraternity owes him money. It alleges the board allowed a pattern of conduct that contributed to Piazza’s death.

The suit names board President Bill Cassidy, as well as Kevin O’Brien, Eric Holmberg, Mark Lamm, Marco Dellaria, Park Lenhart, George Remmey, William Torrance and Garrett Vidak.

It also names Henry T. Bream III, better known as Tim Bream, the Penn State football team’s head trainer and the university’s assistant athletic director for athletic training services.

Bream was previously identified in the Piazza case as the adviser who lived in the Beta house at 220 N. Burrowes St. Bream was onsite the night of the Feb. 2 pledge party when prosecutors say Piazza fell down the basement stairs after an alcohol-related hazing ritual around 11 p.m., and help was not called for 12 hours.

Bream, however, was not seen on video participating or observing the party. A contempt hearing was scheduled for him in August, but suspended when he testified in a preliminary hearing regarding criminal charges against the fraternity and 16 of 18 members.

The new documents claim Bream is a member of the Alpha Upsilon chapter’s board of directors and has been since 2016.

One more individual is noted in the suit: Fred H. Johnson. In an October hearing before Centre County Judge Katherine Oliver, he was identified as Sam Johnson, and testified to being the person coordinating the use of the fraternity house for football weekend stays to generate money for the fraternity’s defense fund.

In the documents, Abbey’s attorney, Matthew Haverstick, lays out a timeline he already established in the previous case, but then added some new elements, including saying that Abbey protested the continued use of alcohol.

“In the last few years, the chapter and its active members began returning to their early 2000s ways of excessive alcohol consumption and engaging in alcohol-related hazing at the house. Most notably, (they) sought to do away with the house’s ‘dry’ status after it had been reconstituted,” Haverstick wrote.

When Abbey was “vocal and unequivocal in his opposition” to that, he was replaced on the board of directors, Haverstick said. That was in September 2016, less than five months before Piazza’s death.

Another allegation raised suggests Cassidy “directed the chapter and certain of its active members to destroy and/or conceal evidence” related to the Feb. 2 party, including deleting surveillance video footage.

The suit charges breach of fiduciary duty, claiming the fraternity has incurred “significant attorney’s fees” during the criminal investigation, putting the figure at $137,000 so far and saying “at least a portion of the legal fees were incurred out of concern that Cassidy might be personally charged.”

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said she could not comment specifically on Cassidy, but said, “We look into every lead or allegation.”

“We are confident in our charges relating to the identity of who physically deleted the tape. Certainly if anyone else is culpable for the erasure of the tape, they can expect to be fully investigated and held responsible for their role as well,” she said.

Parks Miller also said that directing someone to destroy or delete evidence is a serious crime.

“The allegations in the complaint are certainly of serious concern to the commonwealth and could explain why the corporation desperately wanted to take back the original tape from the commonwealth in the beginning,” Parks Miller said. “Had it been returned as was sought by the corporation’s lawyer in an unprecedented move, we may never had recovered the deleted evidence.”

Fraternity member Braxton Becker was charged with erasing the tape.

Those charges were filed in November after erased data was recovered by the FBI, according to Parks Miller. Alpha Upsilon, however, has been attempting to recover the surveillance tapes since March, when the fraternity filed suit against State College police demanding its return. The tape was presented to a grand jury, which recommended the first charges in May.

Abbey also alleges breach of fiduciary duty regarding Piazza’s death. Haverstick’s motion claims “board members were on notice and aware that recently the chapter and its active members were again engaging in alcohol-related hazing activities at the house.”

“Indeed, the board members knowingly and intentionally permitted (them) to again use the house to host events involving alcohol, despite Abbey’s repeated objections...,” Haverstick wrote.

Other counts of breach address rental of the house and the funding agreement.

Abbey demanded a “full and complete accounting by an independent party of all moneys received and disbursed” since 2009.

That information has been a factor in two hearings on Abbey’s other suit. He also demanded the board allow him to inspect the fraternity’s books and records.

Abbey has gone to court requesting summary judgment in his other case against Alpha Upsilon, and to get an injunction that would stop the renting of rooms, but Oliver has denied both motions, saying he failed to meet the burden of proof. Another motion was filed the same day as the new suit asking Oliver to compel Alpha Upsilon to respond to requests for information.

Emails to Cassidy and Alpha Upsilon lawyer Mark Bernlohr were not returned.

The attorney for the Piazza family did respond.

“We will be carefully reviewing the lawsuit and monitoring this development closely,” Tom Kline said.