WISCONSIN — Students at three separatecolleges learned there is a high price to pay for stealing campus newspapers.Punishments ranging from probation to fines were handed down last semester tostudents who stole thousands of copies of the free newspapers at the differentschools. At the University of Wisconsin at River Falls three studentsreceived non-academic probation for stealing more than 2,000 copies of thestudent newspaper. The students, Chris Riepe, Robert Wicklund and AshtonFlinders, stole 75 percent of the Student Voice’s April 25 pressrun. In what the group said was intended to be a prank, they emptieddistribution bins all over campus and left behind ransom notes proclaimingthemselves as the “Army of the Flying Squirrel.” Riepe andWicklund will be on probation for the fall semester, said Editor in Chief JenCullen. Flinders received one year of probation, she added. He also is requiredto complete 10 hours of community service for the Student Voice,which will be determined by Cullen, adviser Pat Berg and journalism departmentChair Colleen Callahan. Cullen said the community service could range fromdelivering newspapers to writing an essay on the importance of the FirstAmendment. The Student Voice pressed charges through theuniversity and the students were found responsible for the theft at a UniversityHearing Committee judicial proceeding on May 13. “I think it isvery important the men received the punishment they did,” Cullen said.“We can’t let this sort of thing go unnoticed, and I am very proudof the Voice staff for sticking by their guns. We have set a precedentfor the future if this is to ever happen again.” Universityspokesperson Mark Kinders said the punishment is a reflection of how theuniversity views newspaper theft. “The Student Voice is animportant communication tool on campus and it should be respected and circulatedunimpeded,” Kinders said.The newspaper staff identified thethieves by tracking a “ransom” email Flinders sent to the newspaper.In his email he demanded that the newspaper publish an apology for everythingthey ever printed. If the demands are not met, Flinders threatened: “Yourpaper will befall yet another travesty.” The email was signed“Squirrel Master, a.k.a. Big Nut.” At the request of thestudent editors, a university IT staff member searched the campus computer logsand determined Flinders was logged into a lab computer when the e-mails from“Squirrel Master” were sent. The three students in the“Army of the Flying Squirrel” then sent another email to thenewspaper in which they apologized for the theft and said they had no idea thatstealing free newspapers was a crime. The idea to take the papers was intendedto be a prank, they said. The week after the newspapers were stolen, the groupapologized in person to Berg and Callahan. Rumors led the studenteditors to find the 2,000 missing newspapers outside chemistry professor KevinMcLaughlin’s office the day after they were stolen and the staff were ableto redistribute the papers. Chemistry department Chair Jeff Rosenthal said helet the students into the building Thursday night to deposit the newspapers inMcLaughlin’s office, but he did not realize how many papers they had.Berg said the newspaper did not lose any money from the theft becausethe staff was able to redistribute it. Flinders did not respond to anemail seeking comments. At Framingham State College in Mass., threefootball players and one female student were punished by the college forstealing 1,000 copies of The Gatepost. The theft was in retaliation foran article published in February that alleged that members of the football teamhad forced first-year players to participate in a hazing ritual. Thethree football players admitted to the theft and the third culprit wasdiscovered by campus police when they sifted through campus surveillance videos.The college would not release the names of the students.Thenewspaper’s adviser, Desmond McCarthy, said the students paid fullrestitution to The Gatepost so it could reprint the stolen copies.Although he did not have an exact amount, he said the newspaper received a checkof about $400. The three students on the football team also were suspended fromthe team, he added. McCarthy said the students were required to meetwith him to discuss the First Amendment and its relation to newspaper theft.“The school really took it seriously,” he said. “Therewas punishment, and there was also an educational component. It was certainlynot just a small slap in the wrist.”College spokesperson PeterChisholm said the students were punished because the school viewed newspapertheft as a crime. “We don’t appreciate anyone interferingwith freedom of the press,” Chisholm said. “It is illegal, that iswhy we punished them.”Two students at South Dakota StateUniversity were found responsible for stealing 2,325 copies of TheCollegiate in what editors said was an attempt to stifle an editorialendorsement of a student government president candidate in February.University spokesperson Doug Wermedal refused to release thestudents’ names or details of their punishment. He said the two studentsturned themselves in to campus authorities two days after the theft. Wermedalsaid he did not know why the students confessed. The college judiciary boardheld a hearing for the students last semester and determined a punishment.“We are interested in SDSU students getting the widest possibleinformation about their community environment and their campus setting,”Wermedal said. “Anything that interrupts that flow of information is anissue for the university to respond.”Student editors found thenewspapers after campus police received a tip that some of the newspapers hadbeen tossed in an off-campus Dumpster. Kara Kristensen, last year’s editor, alsoreceived a tip that led her to find the rest of the papers in front of thestudent union. The Collegiate staff redistributed the newspapers and thepaper did not lose any revenue. Current student editors could not bereached by telephone for comment.
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Read previous coverage of these thefts
- Thieves ‘trash-talk’ papers; editors want culprits bagged The Report, Spring 2003