CHAPEL HILL — At least one UNC fraternity chapter has been suspended by its national headquarters after local and federal law enforcement officials announced that some members had been charged in connection with a major drug network.
The university also has suspended ties with three fraternities connected to the multi-year drug investigation announced late last week.
Local law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of North Carolina named current and former students at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and Appalachian State University among 21 people charged in the last year.
Members of UNC's Kappa Sigma, Phi Gamma Delta and Beta Theta Pi fraternities have been accused of buying and selling cocaine, marijuana and a litany of other illegal drugs, U.S. attorney Matthew G.T. Martin said. He estimated the network earned more than $1.5 million but cautioned that the investigation and the tally of drug sale proceeds are not complete.
More charges are possible, Martin said. He called on university administrators and national chapters of the fraternities to work with law enforcement.
They "can't turn a blind eye any longer," he said.
Rob Caudill, executive director of the national Phi Gamma Delta headquarters, said recently that "it is shocking to learn of the allegations involving our chapter and others at the University of North Carolina."
Mitchell Wilson, executive director of the national headquarters for Kappa Sigma, also expressed concern about the allegations, but did not respond to questions about possible disciplinary actions.
"Kappa Sigma is a values-based fraternity, and we expect our members to be law-abiding citizens," Wilson said in an email.
Beta Theta Pi officials only know the details that have been made public, according to Justin Warren, a media relations director for the national headquarters.
He noted that the Beta Theta Pi fraternity member charged in connection with the drug bust, Jason Nitsos, graduated in 2019.
"The fraternity does not tolerate the possession, sale, distribution or use of illegal substances and holds its chapters to high standards in maintaining a safe environment for all students," Warren said. "We are working in tandem with our undergraduates, volunteers and UNC administrators to determine next steps and will take appropriate action as new information becomes available."
Orange County Sheriff's Office and federal Drug Enforcement Administration investigators started looking into drug sales on and around UNC's campus a few years ago, officials have said. Several members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity have been charged in federal court with selling drugs to fellow members and to students at other universities between 2017 and earlier this year.
Some of the students have reached plea bargains and are awaiting their sentencing hearings in federal court in February and March. Others have not had a hearing yet. At least one suspect remains in the Durham County Jail under a $500,000 bond.
Laundered drug money
In November, a trafficker out of California, Francisco Ochoa Jr., was sentenced, officials said.
Investigators have said Ochoa was shipping cocaine through the U.S. Postal Service and delivering marijuana by vehicle. His dealers in North Carolina laundered the drug sale proceeds through financial institutions and using Western Union checks, money orders and mobile payment apps, they said.
Other proceeds were shipped in bulk through the Postal Service, they said.
Ochoa was sentenced to over six years in federal prison and five years of supervised release, and also ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.
Administrators at all three universities responded to questions with statements expressing disappointment at the news and a willingness to work with law enforcement.
"Although none of the individuals named today are currently enrolled students, we will remain vigilant and continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and address any illegal drug use on our campus," Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said in an email.
A spokesman for the North American Interfraternity Conference, a national trade association for fraternities, also responded to news reports about the drug investigation.
The organization represents 58 national and international fraternities with about 6,000 chapters on more than 500 university and college campuses, spokesman Todd Shelton said.
"We are disturbed and disheartened to learn of this investigation and the alleged criminal involvement by some fraternity members," Shelton said. "The reported activities are not representative of fraternity expectations and standards."