Fijis involved in thefts
By Linda D'Angelo
Three Phi Gamma Delta members accused of stealing approximately $70,000 in computer equipment from MIT laboratories have been expelled from the fraternity, Fiji corresponding secretary Marc A. Indeglia '92 said.
The three former Fiji members "acted solely on their own behalf," Indeglia said. He added that the chapter is "actively working with MIT, our house corporation, and our national organization to insure that something like this can never happen again."
Fiji has submitted a proposal to its house corporation outlining what steps the chapter will take to prevent future incidents of theft, which reflect poorly on the fraternity as a whole, Indeglia said. He added that he did not know the status of the proposal and would not comment on specific details.
The executive director of the national chapter of Fiji, William Martin III, is working with the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs to resolve the case, Fiji regional officer John Mills said. He also contended that the three students acted independently from the fraternity and that the national was "not involved with the three students at all."
The three students are accused of stealing computers over the past year from the Technology Laboratory for Advanced Composites (TELAC), the Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) and a mechanical engineering laboratory in Building 3, Campus Police Detective Eugene H. Salois said. He added he was fairly certain that the students were tied to thefts in two other laboratories, but was waiting for positive confirmation. Salois declined to identify the other labs.
No criminal charges will be brought against the students, Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin said. Instead, the Dean's Office is handling the case internally, at the request of Associate Dean for Student Affairs James R. Tewhey, she explained.
Tewhey said he had no timetable for the case against the three students, but expected some resolution of the investigation within a week. He declined to comment on the reasons why the case has not been referred to Committee on Discipline.
Glavin said she expects Tewhey to ask the officers conducting the investigation to testify at the students' hearings, but would not comment on when those hearings might be held.
Campus Police detectives had been investigating the thefts since August, according to Salois. The investigation was stepped up in January when detectives were tipped off by an informant, who did not want to be involved in the investigation.
Glavin said that the Campus Police made the decision not to press charges against the three students because they could not establish probable cause without further involving the informant.
There were also problems with jurisdiction, Glavin said, which would make the case difficult to prosecute. "Aspects of the case with regard to recovering stolen property would take place in Boston, and we don't have jurisdiction there," she said.
"If the circumstances were different, we would have made criminal charges," Glavin said. "No one is willing to tolerate theft, so whenever we can, we will seek a criminal complaint and, at the very least, will request an internal hearing."
The Campus Police "are still investigating aspects of the case that could affect other students," Glavin explained. If anyone else is found to be involved in the thefts, the Campus Police will attempt to press criminal charges, she said.
COD not yet involved
The Committee on Discipline is not currently involved in the case, but Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sheila E. Widnall '60, chair of the committee, said that she was involved in the decision on how the case would be handled.
Whether the COD or the Dean's Office hears a case as serious as the current one, neither body "acts with any real power," Widnall said. Instead, recommendations are made to the president, who ultimately decides what action will be taken.
Widnall stressed that if either the students accused of the theft or any of the individuals in the laboratories which were burglarized wish to appeal the recommendation that the Dean's Office will make to the president, they can bring the case before the COD.
"The COD handles only a small percent of cases, usually ones that involve issues of academic honesty or issues between faculty and students," Widnall said. Cases which involve clear wrongdoing by students do not need to be heard by the COD, she added.
The earliest incident of theft by the three students occurred at SERC last August. Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Edward F. Crawley '76, director of SERC, said that his laboratory lost about $12,000 worth of Macintosh equipment, some of which was federally owned and some owned by MIT.
Salois said he believed the total value of the equipment stolen in that incident was "closer to $15,000."
The three students also stole $16,000 in computer equipment from a mechanical engineering laboratory on the fourth floor of Building 3 last November, according to Salois.
Mechanical Engineering Lecturer James B. Grinnell Jr., who administers the lab, said all the equipment taken in this incident was owned by MIT. Because of the theft of "one third of the Macintosh IIs in the lab," the number of students able to take Visual Communication in Design (2.701) over IAP had to be cut from 18 to 12, according to Grinnell, who teaches the class. He added that it was "really sad that these students are affecting others' educations that way."
The third incident which has been clearly linked to the three students happened in January at TELAC. Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Paul A. Lagace '78, director of TELAC, said the stolen equipment totaled about $15,000 and was all MIT property.
Through "discussion and cooperation with the students," Glavin said that almost all of the equipment had been retrieved. Efforts to locate the remaining equipment are ongoing, Glavin said.
Campus Police officers did not need a warrant to retrieve the stolen equipment, Glavin said. While officers are generally required to use warrants, Glavin said that details in this case, which she would not elaborate on, made a warrant unnecessary.
Student indicted in
previous theft case
The last time a student was accused of computer theft of this magnitude was in the fall of 1987, when Uche O. Ola '90 was caught in the act of stealing computer equipment. The Campus Police later found $50,000 in stolen equipment in Ola's room.
MIT pressed criminal charges and Ola was indicted on 32 counts of larceny by Middlesex Superior Court in 1988. After the case was brought to trial, Ola was brought before the COD, Glavin said.
Ola, an electrical engineering major who was scheduled to graduate in 1990, left the Institute in March, 1989 without a degree.
Glavin said that the Ola case differed from the current case because, unlike Ola, who was "caught in the act of theft," the three former members of Fiji "were not caught red-handed."
(Editor's note: Brian Rosenberg, Dave Watt and Andrea Lamberti contributed to the reporting of this article.)