UNC fraternity claims responsibility for theft of 10,000 newspapers

NORTH CAROLINA — A fraternity claimed responsibility Wednesday for taking 10,000 copies of The Daily Tar Heel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s student newspaper, just hours after staff members discovered the theft.

Leaders of the Sigma Chi fraternity met with newspaper staff members on Nov. 29, the same day of the theft, to apologize and negotiate a way to avoid charges, General Manager Kevin Schwartz said.

Schwartz said the fraternity will have to pay for the loss incurred by the newspaper in printing costs and advertising revenue. Schwartz also said those responsible also had to be publicly identified and be willing to be interviewed by The Daily Tar Heel and in exchange, the newspaper will not press criminal charges.

“I’m very satisfied [with the agreement],” Schwartz said. “Our primary interest is letting the community know that [theft] is not a proper thing to do … it’s just wrong.”

Schwartz would not give the exact number that the fraternity must pay but said that the amount is in the “upper four figures.”

“They didn’t hurt The Daily Tar Heel, but they hurt the 38,000 readers and the advertisers who were deprived of communication with readers,” Schwartz said.

In the Nov. 29 issue, The Daily Tar Heel published a front-page article about a decision to suspend Sigma Chi for three years because of hazing violations.

Editor in Chief Joseph Schwartz (no relation to Kevin Schwartz) said staff members noticed on the morning of Nov. 29 that newspapers were missing from distribution spots on campus and immediately filed a report with the campus police. Joseph Schwartz said that suspicion immediately fell on Sigma Chi.

“My initial reaction [to the theft] was disappointment,” Joseph Schwartz said. “Our readers depend on us every day for news and they were being deprived because of a childish and cowardly act.”

Sigma Chi President Doug Dyer said that the theft was a result of individual actions and was not an act of the organization as a whole. Dyer said fraternity members were under the impression that the newspaper was free and once they realized that was not the case, the group decided to come forward because “it was the right thing to do”

“We’re disappointed in some of our members’ actions and we are sorry about that,” Dyer said.

Copies of The Daily Tar Heel include a disclaimer stating that one copy per day is free but additional copies cost 25 cents. Joseph Schwartz said staff members started publishing the disclaimer after a similar theft incident occurred in the early 1990s in which another fraternity stole copies of the newspaper.

The Daily Tar Heel reprinted 3,000 copies of the stolen issue. Staff members also immediately published a short story about the incident on their Web site. The Daily Tar Heel has a circulation of 20,000.

Kevin Schwartz said the blurb might have pushed fraternity leaders to come forward, because police had classified the incident as larceny. He said the student legal services office, which provides legal assistance to university students, contacted the office after the article was published online stating that an anonymous party wanted to come forward and resolve the issue. Fraternity leaders and The Daily Tar Heel reached the agreement within hours of the theft, Kevin Schwartz said.

There is indication that the university will further look into the incident as a potential violation, Kevin Schwartz said. Assistant Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said the theft could also be a violation of the university honor code’s provision against stealing property.

“[The judicial board] would go through a process of gathering additional information, it will have access to the police report and it can decide to pursue [the theft],” Sauls said.

Along with its three-year suspension, the fraternity must perform community service and is facing an investigation from its national organization, The Daily Tar Heel reported.