Though No Felony Charges Filed, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Facing $25 Million Claim

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — She says her son was hazed to death.

A Brooklyn mother filed a $25 million lawsuit, claiming her son was forced to drink until he was five times the legal limit.

She says he was left to die, by his own fraternity brothers, reports CBS 2’s Don Dahler.

On a cold day in February of this year, George Desdunes called his Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers at Cornell University for a ride back to the house.

Instead, a group of pledges allegedly kidnapped the 19-year-old, tied him up, and as part of a hazing ritual reportedly unique to SAE, quizzed him about the fraternity. Every time he didn’t give them the correct answer, he was allegedly forced to drink. He died of acute alcohol poisoning.

“It’s taken me a long, long time to be able to deal with the fact that he’s not coming back,” said Dr. Robert Fischer, Desdunes’ godfather.

“Marie Andre, his mother, who is a close friend of mine, comes to this country as an orphan from Haiti, makes a life for herself, raises a son on her own because her husband dies while she was pregnant with George. She raises this brilliant, wonderful human being, sends him off to college and then one day does get that phone call.”

Desdunes’ mother is suing the fraternity millions of dollars.

“The purpose is to make substantial changes in fraternities in the way they operate. For approximately 40 years, every year one student has died as a result of hazing or the misuse of alcohol,” attorney Doug Fieberg said.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national office issued the following statement:

“The organization actively promotes its anti-hazing initiative program called ‘We Stand Together,’ which educates both members and non-members on ways to recognize and prevent hazing.”

But Desdunes’ family said young people in college need more than a program; they need adult supervision.

“Unfortunately what happens is the national fraternity turns that responsibility over to the local chapters. Those chapters are run by students. In most cases those students are minors. So, basically, they’re allowing the inmates of the asylum to police the asylum,” Dr. Fischer said.

No felony charges were filed.

Desdunes planned on becoming a neurosurgeon.

He’s not the first Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother to die in an alleged hazing incident. A Cal Poly student died of alcohol poisoning a few years ago during a fraternity pledge event.

Is this just fraternity antics gone bad, or should fraternities be done away with entirely? Sound off in our comments section below…

Comments (26)
  1. Charlie F Dombrosky III says:

    Me and My Friends started a Fraternity because we were hazed and believe in a true brotherhood, not a way to enforce primitive and futile dominance over younger peers. We bring people together and help them, not hurt them.. my prayers go out to the family and friends of the deceased. From behalf of the fraternity of Tau Delta Phi we are deeply deeply saddened by this loss of live and we will do everything in our power to prevent anything like this wherever we go.

  2. Lynn says:

    Hazing is something that should not be done anymore in t hese frats. They always take it over board and know they can because there is never ever any consequences to their actions. I hope that she wins that lawsuit.

  3. ahab says:

    I’m going out on a limb here, but since this happened in Cornell territory, could the prosecutors and law enforcement have some Cornell alumni in their ranks? Could some of these alumni be frat brothers of the ones who did this? Maybe they are just covering up for their frat brothers. That could be why there were no formal charges filed, even when it seemed like they were warrented. Just sayin’.

  4. Rachel says:

    Many of you think that hazing is just a joke. It is not! Many young men and women are seriously hurt or die because of hazing. When frat brothers are involved in hazing, they are not boys just misbehaving. They are professional perpetrators and bullies. (1) Fraternities should be closed as they provide no useful purpose for young men. The philanthropy is a ruse and façade. They donate only a pittance to charity and the majority is kept within the fraternity for their parties. (2) The Interfraternity Council should be closed. It is like having the fox watch over the hen house. (3) University Greek Life personnel should be eliminated. Too much taxpayer dollars are spent for these university employees to watch over fraternities. (4) The biggest problem lies with the fraternity headquarters and the universities. They turn a blind eye to what goes on because it is all about money. No amount of policy changes or awareness support will stop hazing. It will only stop when the penalty for hazing is having the perpetrator kicked out of college and serving time in prison, the university losing some of its government funding and corporate sponsorships, and the fraternity headquarters paying a hefty financial penalty.

  5. cygon says:

    they always say one thing and do another when no one is looking. abolish these frats and sororities.

    1. Moon Them says:

      I would never have kids on this planet. But if you do, ship them off to Space Camp otherwise, most of them commit suicide, die of drug overdoses, alcohol related deaths, homicides, etc. Earth is truly the Death Star, and don’t anyone try to convince me otherwise. I’ve seen enough and I am disgusted beyond words.

  6. Fish says:

    Sounds like he willingly let them tie him up and then drank a bunch of Old E. His mother is looking for a handout

    1. Mr salt says:

      I agree, but the big question is How did he get into cornell ?

      1. KPMc says:

        Probably study and hard work. Unlike you who blames others for his shortcomings and thinks your entitled to something or that you are better because of the race you were born into.

        Pathetic loser.

      2. angry says:

        he got there because the kid was brilliant and was an academic scholar..he earned his way into Cornell it wasn’t giving to idiot!!

      3. Lynn says:

        He worked hard to get into school, thats how he got in you ignorant troll.

        BTW if there are at least 10 of them grabbing you to tie you there is no way you are going to fight that and win unless you are the strongest man in the world.

  7. I understand the moral outrage. But any collegiate rushing a fraternity understands (or should) the premise of hazing. Claims of kidnapping are unjustified….again, part of the ritual of hazing. Even if through word of mouth anecdotes, anyone rushing any frat will have some idea of what they’re getting into.

    What’s next, a new law against compelling fraternity rushees to drink?

    This is America’s equivalent to British fox hunting.

    1. Scott says:

      But the kid died, sir. i am almost certain while his expectations included being unsulted and degraded, among other things, he had no plans to die. And anybody who forcibly poors alcohol down someone’s throat knowing that there are limitatiosn and dangers with that, should be held responsible. I am sure the women is not in it for the money, certainly any one of us would rather have our son. She would like to change the behavior, and having gone through what her son had gone through (and survived) I can tell you that the act is cruel. These kids should know better and someone needs to be held accoutable to save the life of the next girl or boy who goes through such a horrific experience. No child should die this way. Nobody. I feel for the family as I would if it was my own or even yours. I do agree about the kidnapping though, that should not be a criminal charge. Everyone who pledges knows this is going to happen or could happen.

      1. There’s no question the whole ordeal is very difficult. Regrettably, it is not much different than the Washington State student dying from Four Loko or the MIT student a few years back who drank himself to death.

        ‘These things happen’ is no sort of answer, but hardcore binge drinking is a major component of college life. This is the darkest end of the spectrum.

      2. The Washington case was multiple students getting violently sick mixing Four Loko and booze. My mistake.

  8. karlson says:

    The national or parent fraternity will be on the hook for the actions of the local fraternity as well as the individuals of the frat house that are found to be culpable for this young man’s death. National fraternities have insurance but it may not be enough. These organizations also have policies about alcohol, drugs and behavior that is supposed to be adhered to.

    If the young men and their parent’s or guardian’s homeowners insurance policies are sued and there are insufficient funds to satisfy a judgement, the national fraternity will have to make up the difference. Cornell may or may not also bear responsibility or partial responsibility depending upon the results of an investigation by the authorities.

  9. swhitS says:

    We can’t get the crims in Washington for allowing Gitmo. Personally I see no difference in what these punks did. Just hope the mother can get some peace of mind and 25 mill is not enough.

  10. JIM says:


  11. Smithson says:

    Fraternities (and Universities) have made significant advancements in changing pledge processes for the better, but clearly it’s not enough. At some point, people need their own common sense and that appears what was really missing by the boys involved here – it’s a shame all the way around. Maybe fraternities should all be banned…

  12. iggy says:

    when does being responsible for your own actions come into effect? was the alcohol poured down his throat or did he drink himself to death so he could join a fraternity voluntarily?

    1. MIKE says:


    2. Johnson says:

      The article states he was ‘kidnapped’ and his hands and feet were bound… that would make it difficult for him to put the alcohol in his body on his own, whether he wanted to or not.

    3. Mace says:

      1st and foremost at 19 yrs of age he is under age THAT’s A LAWSUIT within itself, whoever purchased & provided with feeding him liquor is at fault, and if this happened on campus the university is solely responsible. Liquor and Drugs are prohibited on college campuses, unless in the student unions cafe area. U must be of the states legal age to purchase or consume alcohol. The mother has an excellent case. These fraternities serve no purpose anyways.

    4. ham07 says:

      peer pressure, sometimes the ability to resist that does not come to young men until they are well into their 30’s. Sometimes never. To say it was simply he agreed to go along with it does really describe what happened.

  13. Dee Tee says:

    The frats still haven’t learned. This kind of thing has been going on for years and until the law takes a hard stand against this extreme behavior, it is not going to stop. Someone should be in jail — period!!!

  14. Gregory says:

    This is more than a civil suit. Criminal charges seem highly appropriate.

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