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Resort to file civil lawsuit against University of Michigan fraternity, sorority members for vandalism

Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Delta Tau cause more than $400K in damage at Treetops Resort

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(Photos courtesy 9 & 10 News)

DETROIT – A northern Michigan ski resort will file a civil lawsuit against the University of Michigan fraternity and sorority members who caused thousands of dollars in damage earlier this year.

More than 200 members of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau sorority rented nearly 50 rooms at Treetops Resort in Gaylord over weekend in January. The resort was forced to call in Michigan State Police to help evict students after resort furniture, doors and walls were extensively vandalized.

Damage, legal fees and other expenses were estimated to be about $430,000 at Treetops.

Thus far, three students have been criminal charged in connection with the incident.

In a statement Tuesday, the resort said its legal advisers had reviewed the cases and determined "several facts from this review now suggest that legal action beyond the criminal matter should be pursued."

The resort said retaliation may have been a factor in the vandalism after the students were confronted by management about not having pre-payment.

"Treetop's management secured verbal commitments from the group's president that the group would be more careful with respect to the resorts' property and other guests. The resort management's trust in the Michigan students proved ill-founded when the students caused massive damage during the second night of the groups' stay that was far in excess of what had been seen the previous day," the resort's statement said.

Sigma Alpha Mu has been disbanded by the university.

Sigma Delta Tau has been suspended for two years.

Full Treetops statement

Treetops announced that it will be filing a civil lawsuit against the individual fraternity and sorority members and entities that are responsible for the malicious destruction of property that took place at the Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Michigan earlier this year. In January 2015, over 200 members of the University of Michigan's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau sorority rented nearly 50 rooms at the northern Michigan resort for a ski weekend. The outing ended when Treetops' management was forced to call for assistance from the Michigan State Police to assist the resort with evicting the massive group of students after the resort property was extensively vandalized.  

 

Treetops' legal advisors have recently completed a review of the facts of the case, including recently released material prepared pursuant to the criminal investigation. Criminal charges were filed against three students last month. Several facts from this review now suggest that legal action beyond the criminal matter should be pursued. For example, it now appears that the group of students may have retaliated against Treetops after the group's leadership was confronted by resort management on the morning after the groups' first night stay. During that meeting, management pointed out that the student group had not completed their pre-payment arrangements as is typical for larger groups, and that additional money was due. Treetops' management had also discovered significant, but non-malicious damage occurred after this first night and discussed the University of Michigan's students' behavior with their leadership. Treetop's management secured verbal commitments from the group's president that the group would be more careful with respect to the resorts' property and other guests. The resort management's trust in the Michigan students proved ill-founded when the students caused massive damage during the second night of the groups' stay that was far in excess of what had been seen the previous day.  According to various assessments, the damage caused on the second day was so extensive that it had to be the result of malicious and intentional conduct. 

 

Treetops General Manger Barry Owens stated "It is not unusual for large groups - particularly large groups of students - to accidentally break a table, or knock over a lamp. That is one of the reasons why prepayment arrangements and security deposits are standard operating procedure for large groups. But we've never had to deal with anything like this before.  We're prepared for problem issues, but something on this mass scale surprised us - as I think it would most resorts." 

 

The damage on the second night of the group's stay extended to almost all of the rooms utilized by the group, many of which had been recently updated or refurbished. Less than 24 hours after having received promises of good behavior, Treetops' management made the call to police to evict the fraternity and sorority members from the resort. Owens added, "No doubt some people will criticize our handling of the situation, I already know things we can do to avoid this kind of situation in the future. But based upon the information our people had at the time, I'm proud of how our team responded." Since this incident, Treetops has curtailed its practices regarding renting to large student groups. 

 

Contributing to the decision to pursue its own legal action is the fact that to date, only three students are being charged and Treetops is not aware of the University of Michigan or the Greek organizations taking any other action against any individuals. Apparently, authorities have been impeded by the refusal of the students to identify those specifically involved in the vandalism further suggesting that the damage was a group effort. Treetops was initially encouraged by the apology written by the Sigma Alpha Mu officer immediately after the incident assuming all responsibility for "getting out of hand" and committing to pay for the damages, but only a token payment has been received thus far.

 

Treetops was also encouraged by news that the national level of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity recently sued its University of Michigan local chapter in order to confiscate over $100,000 the local chapter had in its bank account. It is hoped these funds will be made available to Treetops to assist with the restitution that was promised but as of yet has not materialized.

 

Regarding the decision to pursue its own legal action, Treetops management emphasized that it owes it to its owners, employees, guests, fellow townspeople, its insurer, and the northern Michigan hospitality industry to try to hold all of the individual responsible parties accountable. 

 

Treetops entered into voluntary financial reorganization last winter after efforts to re-categorize certain debts to various owners was unsuccessful. While the vandalism incident has been a significant setback, Treetops still expects to emerge from the reorganization process this spring.