Fraternity Reaches Deal To Save Historic House

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(Host) A historic fraternity house at the University of Vermont was used by some members a few years ago in a cocaine ring. After they were convicted, the house stood to be forfeited to the U.S. government.

But alumni of Lambda Iota have worked out a deal with prosecutors that instead will make the house central to Burlington’s fight against drugs.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) A banner hangs between two of the tall white pillars on the Lambda Iota house across the street from the UVM green.

The banner declares: "Drug Dealers Were Using This House."

That’s the most visible sign of the former fraternity’s new role in the fight against drugs. Eventually, the building will be opened to social service groups that help people combat drug abuse.

Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling says this is a perfect resolution.

(Schirling) "Could the federal government have potentially profited more if the house had been fully seized. Sure. But the hope is that this seeds something that will be larger than that."

(Sneyd) The alumni association that owns the stately 1913 building agreed to forfeit $50,000 to the federal government because its board of governors knew of the drug dealing but did nothing about it.

The association also agreed to pay $5,000 each to groups including those helping youth, battered women and rape victims.

Federal prosecutor Paul van de Graaf says the settlement is unusual but effective.

(van de Graaf) "We saw this resolution as a way to prevent crime in the future in Burlington. And that’s one of the most important things that we could do. And so we thought resolution helped us with our mission."

(Sneyd) For the alumni of Lambda Iota, it’s a way to save a history that dates to 1836. Before the university suspended its recognition, Lambda was the oldest independent fraternity in the nation.

Spencer Baker is acting chairman of the fraternity’s governing board.

(Baker) "With all the bad that’s come out of this, the good that’s coming out of this is now we have a chance to step back, increase our importance to the community, become a part of UVM and Burlington community again, and our neighborhood. So we’re actually excited about what’s ahead of us."

(Sneyd) Baker says the alumni want Lambda Iota to become a recognized fraternity at UVM again by 2015.

In the meantime, the 11 students who live in the building will have to share their elegant library and parlor with groups that serve those combating drugs.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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