Increased Anonymous Tips Lead to More Drug Busts This Semester

Renee Gerstein

With James Cocoliato’s arrest on Monday marking the fourth drug-related one in eleven days at UT, people are beginning to notice an increase in students turning in their peers.

University administrators say students have played a key role in tipping off authorities in several high-profile campus crimes.

“It is a positive response from the UT community putting their foot down and saying ‘We don’t want this here,'” said Gina Firth, Associate Dean of Students.

Assistant Director of Safety and Security Kevin Howell agrees, noting an increase in anonymous tips from students this year.

“In the case of narcotics, they are becoming an extreme nuisance for a multitude of reasons, not least of all because it is disrupting students’ studies,” he explained. “Because of the type of complaint, it seems that more students are becoming fed up with this behavior disrupting their studies, more of an ‘enough’s enough’ type of thing.”

Tuesday night, The Minaret polled eight students in the Vaughn Center and asked if they would anonymously inform authorities, an R.A. or other campus officials if they knew of someone in possession of or dealing illegal drugs.

All eight students surveyed said that they would turn in someone selling drugs.

One freshman said, “I’d snitch like a b****! I’d tell an R.A., especially if they are around me. I don’t want to get in trouble.” One junior said snitching would be an option, but it would depend on the amount of drugs that were in the person’s possession. Another freshman said that they wouldn’t report if a person was just using, but if they were selling, they would report it.

The Most Recent Arrest

The most recent drug-related arrest contributed to the suspension of Pi Kappa Phi from campus pending an investigation by its national headquarters, according to Casey Stevens, Assistant Director of Civic Engagement at the university. The fraternity’s national headquarters also handed down an interim suspension, said CEO Mark Timmes.

This came the day after the second Pi Kappa Phi member within 11 days was arrested on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

James Cocoliato, chaplain of his fraternity, was charged Monday with a felony and a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana with intent to sell. This arrest comes just 11 days after the arrest of another Pi Kappa Phi member, sophomore Aaron Cowell, who was also charged with intent to sell.

Pi Kappa Phi’s run ins with the law in recent weeks started Sept. 20, when Cowell was picked up on three felony counts of drug possession for both Xanax and cannabis, as well as two misdemeanor charges for paraphernalia and having less than 20 grams of cannabis, police reports say. His codefendant, Michael Pappas, is not believed to be in a fraternity.

Bob Ruday, Dean of Students, didn’t comment on any particular case, but said, “It is unfortunate that some students endanger their health and welfare with illegal drugs. I urge all students to make the decision to choose healthy choices in their lifestyles.”

Pi Kappa Phi’s Response

Paul Lobiondo, president of the UT chapter of Pi Kappa Phi, also avows a zero tolerance policy with drugs.

“It isn’t how we operate, we don’t condone these behaviors, and we don’t allow these kinds of activities in our organization,” he said.

He also said that this [the drug arrests] is not how the fraternity functions.

“We have a good group of guys,” he said. “I think we are a good asset to the school and to nationals.”

Casey Stevens, Assistant Director of Civic Engagement explains suspending the fraternity. “The university wants to collaborate with the national organization of Pi Kappa Phi to ensure the personal health and safety of the individual members of the fraternity, but also the viability of a sustainable campus organization.”

Stevens said that if national headquarters concludes its investigation and allows the UT chapter to continue operations, it is likely that the University will remove the suspension.

Lobiondo believes that the national headquarters is just taking precautionary measures by suspending the chapter.

“I hope nationals sends a representative down to see how we operate, and see us all individually.”

Lobiondo says the UT chapter will cooperate with them.

Suspension from the University means that Pi Kappa Phi will immediately lose organizational privileges, including participation in campus activities, formal recruitment, Student Government membership, voting, funding requests and their organizational mailbox.

They will also lose Student Activities Office services, their membership in the interfraternity council, fundraising, chapter meetings, social activities and inductions.

Pi Kappa Phi has been suspended from the University of Tampa before. From January to July 2006, the fraternity was suspended for hazing and alcohol. The incident prompted a full member review by Pi Kappa Phi National Headquarters in May 2006, which did not lead to a revocation of the UT chapter’s charter.

Editor’s Note: The Minaret is not passing judgment on any parties mentioned in the story by printing the charges against them; we are merely reporting facts that we have received from reliable and confirmed sources, and encourage readers to draw their own conclusions about the charges and our coverage.

However, The Minaret would like to publicly apologize for an error that we committed in the opening hours when this story broke. James Cocoliato was charged with possession of marijuana, but it was not for 100 grams as the original story briefly claimed early Wednesday. Though we are still investigating the exact amount that Cocoliato was charged with, it is obvious at this point that we significantly overshot the actual number. By way of explanation, late Tuesday afternoon, the newspaper had been expecting a faxed report regarding Cocoliato. Instead what came was a police report on Brandon Chatkin, a UT student who was charged with possession of 101 grams of marijuana the previous week. For a brief period after 4 a.m. Wednesday, our erroneous report associated that amount with Cocoliato.

Though short-lived, this error was a shameful and serious clerical mistake on our part, and as soon as we discovered it, we immediately removed it from the story and informed the parties involved that a mistake had been made. In an effort to print only the truth, the newspaper “stopped the presses” and paid a significant replating fee to our printer so that the error could be removed from our print edition, which comes out this Friday. We have privately apologized to both Cocoliato and fraternity president Lobiondo for our error, and we have opened up the pages of The Minaret to each of them–and anyone else facing charges–if they want to further tell their side of the story. While this error was undoubtedly a terrible mistake on our part, it was exactly that: a mistake. The inaccuracy was in no way intentional, and we hope that our quick and public efforts to clarify the charges reflect our commitment to setting the record straight. Just as Pi Kappa Phi President Paul Lobiondo makes clear that Cocoliato’s and Aaron Cowell’s alleged crimes are not representative of how the fraternity operates, so would we like to stress that this error is atypical of our organization and is in no way representative of the news reporting of our staff. The error is not reflective of any vendetta or bias on behalf of our staff or reporters, but rather came from an unfortunate confusion of public records. We hope that the error, which has long been removed from our website and print edition, does not detract from what we consider to otherwise be a thorough and objective effort by our reporters to deliver a difficult and timely story. We stand by the factual integrity of the story as it now reads.

To those
who are posting constructive comments on our stories, we appreciate your feedback, even when it is negative. The dialog is healthy, not just for the paper but for the campus at large. Thank you.

For more information on the drug busts or the suspension of Kappa Sigma, see these stories:

Two Students Arrested On Drug Charges

Sophomore Arrested for Intent to Sell Marijuana

Kappa Sigma Suspended for Alleged Hazing

Leave a Reply

Back To Top