Penn State

Frat whistleblower sues Penn State, Kappa Delta Rho

James Vivenzio
James Vivenzio

The man who turned in the Penn State chapter of Kappa Delta Rho to State College police for a Facebook page showing hazing, substance abuse and women in compromising positions says that was only the start.

On Monday, James Vivenzio, 21, sued Penn State, KDR’s national organization as well as the Zeta chapter, the university’s Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association, charging negligence, battery, furnishing alcohol to a minor, serving a visibly intoxicated person, false imprisonment, and conversion of thousands of dollars in dining plan funds.

The complaint Vivenzio’s attorneys filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas detailed being burned with cigarettes, “mentally abusive late-night line-ups that featured force-feeding bucketfuls of liquor mixed with urine, vomit, hot sauce” and more, gladiator-style games that led to “significant bodily injuries,” swilling hard liquor to the point of vomiting, and serving as forced labor around the Prospect Avenue chapter house and for older members.

“The KDR fraternity operated much like a gang, obtaining some of its funding by converting the pre-paid food plans of its pledges and confiscating and selling their prescription drugs,” attorney Aaron Freiwald wrote. “These funds were then used to pay for countless socials, pre-socials and parties at the fraternity house at which underage students were plied with alcohol and, in some cases, with drugs to facilitate sexual assault and abuse.”

Vivenzio informed police about the Facebook page in January. In March, police announced an investigation. So did the university. Last week, Penn State announced it was pulling the fraternity’s recognition at University Park for three years.

Vivenzio believes that is not enough, and in a statement said he is committed to “bringing about positive and permanent change to eliminate hazing, sexual violence and sexual harassment. Not just at Penn State, but everywhere.”

Penn State is being targeted in the suit because Vivenzio says that in April 2014, 11 months before Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims participated in the news conference announcing the investigation and nine months before Vivenzio walked into the State College Police Department, he met with a university investigator in his Virginia home, sharing printouts of group texts and disclosing the Facebook page.

The university contests this.

In a statement Monday, spokeswoman Lisa Powers said, “The university strongly disputes the allegations in this complaint.”

According to Powers, Vivenzio and his family came to student affairs staff in April 2014 and university staff “offered him extraordinary assistance on numerous occasions.” That included nine months of contact, “even sending the director of the Office of Student Conduct to their home to interview them.”

But Powers said “neither he nor his family were willing to file a complaint, provide documentation, speak with State College police or participate in pursuing the formal disciplinary process available to them, despite repeated encouragement from university staff. Mr. Vivenzio also did not inform Penn State staff members of a private Facebook group. University officials became aware of its existence when informed by State College police in February 2015.”

Freiwald wasted no time firing back at the university’s statement.

“Penn State’s dismissive and demeaning statement is false and misleading in an attempt to conceal and blur the truth,” he said. “In April 2014, at a meeting that lasted several hours in the family’s home, Danny Shaha, the university’s chief investigator, was shown dozens and dozens of pages of documentation, including photos from the Facebook 2.0 page, supporting the claims in the complaint filed today.”

Freiwald said the family “pledged full cooperation,” but the possibility of an internal complaint about the hazing abuses didn’t arise.

“In addition, James and his family have always been cooperative with State College police, who he went to after eight months and after losing confidence in the university to pursue his claims,” said Freiwald. “We look forward to presenting all of the evidence in this case to a jury.”

According to his attorney, Vivenzio flunked out of school, entered rehab and therapy and was hospitalized with post-traumatic stress disorder earlier this year.

On Monday morning, KDR’s national organization announced that 38 members were being expelled and the fraternity looked forward to rejoining the university’s Greek community when its suspension was complete.

“KDR National talks a good game when trying to portray itself as being anti-hazing,” Freiwald wrote in his filing, but said the “track record, however, tells a terribly different story.”

He included a list of six incidents documented since 2003, including Colgate University, the University of Toledo, Bucknell, Middlebury College and West Chester University, where a member was arrested for an alleged rape and sexual assault at a party in April.

Penn State also has a stance against hazing, which has been illegal in Pennsylvania for almost 30 years.

“I’m no hero and I’m certainly no martyr,” said Vivenzio. “But I do believe that Penn State can and must do much more — and do it candidly — to stop hazing and sexual violence and should commit to lead by example.”

Vivenzio himself entered a guilty plea in April after being charged with resisting arrest, escape, purchasing alcohol by a minor, scattering rubbish and having an open container when he was stopped by an officer in August 2014 outside the Delta Chi Rho fraternity house. He received a $200 fine.

Freiwald said that incident was unrelated to the KDR situation, but did say “there was a whole culture of drinking on a daily basis.”

Freiwald’s firm put up a website, www.endhazingnow.com, with information about the case and links to other organizations addressing hazing issues.

“We are building resources,” he said. “Already so much is happening and we’re just getting started. James is committed to doing this.”

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