news

2 avoid guilty pleas, jail time in alleged Wharton brawl

Mensah M. Dean, Staff Writer

Updated: Wednesday, October 4, 2017, 6:55 PM

Students walk to class on the University of Pennsylvania campus Sept. 8, 2017.

Two Wharton School students, who earlier this year faced criminal charges for allegedly beating another student, received diversionary sentences Wednesday that allow them to avoid pleading guilty and serving jail time. The pair allegedly had stormed into the third student’s dorm room and accused him of trying to take sexual advantage of an intoxicated female student.

James Funt, the attorney for one of the defendants, Dante Benitez, called the resolution “a victory” after a hearing before Municipal Judge James DeLeon at the Criminal Justice Center.

But attorney Timothy Creech, who represents the victim, Max Arias, said the defendants “clearly haven’t paid for what they have done,” and now will have to defend themselves against a lawsuit he’s filing on behalf of his client.

The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program that Benitez and codefendant Ivan Loginov, both 19, were allowed to enter is normally reserved for nonviolent first-time offenders. But the fact that Arias, also 19, suffered a concussion, temple contusions, and a broken nose, wrist, and right hand, does not disqualify Benitez and Loginov from the program, said Jan McDermott, a supervisor in the District Attorney’s Office.

“I’ve seen cases go into ARD with accusations of violence before,” she said after the hearing. “It’s a very broad spectrum. There’s nothing in the ARD statute that precludes it.”

Under the terms of their ARD agreements, Benitez received one year of probation and must perform 50 hours of community service. Loginov received two years of probation and voluntarily agreed to withdraw from Wharton. Both read short statements apologizing to Arias. Their records can be expunged once they complete all requirements.

Pending the outcome of an ongoing University of Pennsylvania investigation, both have been suspended from attending classes on the Ivy League campus.

Shortly after the early-morning brawl April 8, the DA’s Office charged Benitez and Loginov with three felonies, aggravated assault, burglary, and criminal trespassing; and with three misdemeanors, conspiracy to commit simple assault, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person.

After a preliminary hearing Aug. 17, Municipal Judge Karen Y. Simmons dismissed the felonies and held the defendants for trial on the misdemeanors. At that time, McDermott said her office would consider refiling the criminal charges in Common Pleas Court due to the seriousness of the injuries suffered by Arias.

On Wednesday, McDermott said her office decided it would be unable to prove burglary and aggravated assault beyond a reasonable doubt. “These are young men who are not career criminals, who, in all likelihood, will never see the inside of the criminal justice system again,” she said in an interview.

During the hearing, Courtney Arias, Max’s mother, read a victim-impact statement written by her son accusing the defendants and their lawyers of peddling to the media a “false narrative” that damaged his reputation.

“This isn’t a story about consent on campus, as Loginov and Benitez through their expensive attorneys have tried to portray. This is a story about how those affluent students hired big-ticket lawyers to circumvent justice. It is not a story about vigilantism; there was no vigilante justice to dispense,” Max Arias wrote.

“These defendants have tried to make heroes of themselves. But in reality, they are nothing but cowards who jumped me in my dorm room and viciously assaulted me. Through their attorneys, they attempted to blame me, the victim, for their actions by invoking the serious issue of consent in a situation where it had no relevance.”

Max Arias, who had testified at the preliminary hearing that neither he nor the woman was drunk, could not attend the hearing because he was taking an exam at Wharton, his parents said.

During the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Lori Edelman said the woman in Arias’ room had told police that she was not forced to go with him and “‘went on my own.'”

DeLeon suggested that in future similar cases the DA should make public such information to counterbalance statements from defense attorneys.

Funt, however, maintained that had the case gone to trial he would have presented evidence that the woman’s blood alcohol level was nearly three times over the legal limit to drive. “Dante Benitez and Ivan Loginov are the heroes of this story,” he said in an interview.

Loginov’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, declined to comment.

Mensah M. Dean, Staff Writer

Read full story: 2 avoid guilty pleas, jail time in alleged Wharton brawl