When Florida International University nursing student Kellie Fullilove died late last year after an off-campus fraternity event, she succumbed to an accidental overdose of cocaine and alcohol, an autopsy has ruled.
And the drugs — according to police reports obtained by the Miami Herald — appeared to have been supplied by a frat brother who bragged about cocaine peddling by Phi Gamma Delta, a frat also known as Fiji.
“If you like going skiing your going to love fiji lmao,” read a text message, using slang for the white powder, that was sent to Fullilove from the phone of frat brother Sean Velazquez, 22. “We practically supply fiu.”
The police investigation into the death at a Fort Lauderdale hotel has been closed with no criminal charges but the final case report completed late last month chronicles a string of messages detailing the supposed dope peddling. Velazquez’s defense attorney, however, denies the student “authorized or sanctioned” the text messages sent from his phone.
University discipline proceedings have already been initiated against Velazquez.
As for Fiji, the fraternity’s woes are far from over. Fullilove’s relatives are considering a lawsuit against the fraternity, which they believe served alcohol to underage students at the “formal” event that night at the famed Bahia Mar hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach. A toxicology report revealed that Fullilove had a blood alcohol level of .50 — more than six times the legal limit.
“We think at both the local and national level, the fraternity is responsible,” said Michael Grieco, the Miami Beach lawyer who is representing the Fullilove family.
In the wake of the death, FIU temporarily suspended Fiji. After an investigation found a bottle of champagne was provided to students at the event, the frat in January was put on probation and made to complete a “risk management” course. Fiji can now operate on campus but can’t organize any social events until the end of August, according to FIU spokeswoman Madeline Baro. She added that the university was reviewing the police report to see if further actions were warranted.
“Even though the frat sponsored the event where alcohol was provided and a girl died because of it, the fraternity gets to remain on campus – it’s ridiculous,” Grieco said.
Fiji’s national director, Bill Martin, acknowledged the organization had seen the police report detailing Velazquez’s alleged text messages.
“Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity continues to extend our sympathies to Ms. Fullilove’s family,” Martin said in a statement. “The Fraternity does not condone illicit drug use or possession, underage drinking, or other illegal behavior by members or guests. However, the Fraternity acknowledges that all suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”
FIU is certainly no stranger to controversies involving drugs. Last year, a Miami Herald series identified several students who had been involved in importing synthetic drugs from China — including one who did a deal from a campus computer lab.
In 2013, the FIU chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha lost its charter after members posted numerous Facebook posts about drugs and hazing. The fraternity, also known as Pike, had a long history of violations at the university, and had been found guilty of underage drinking and vandalizing a student’s car, among other offenses.
As for Fiji, which boasted about 60 members at FIU, it was first fraternity house to open on FIU’s campus in 2001. The fraternity came under scrutiny in 2008 after a pornographic video was purportedly shot in the Fiji house.
Fullilove, a 19-year-old from Cape Coral, accompanied Velazquez to a Fiji “formal” event at the Bahia Mar the night of Nov. 14. She never awoke the next morning. Paramedics and police were called to room 220, where Fullilove was sprawled out on a bed, vomit on the covers.
Velazquez told the first Fort Lauderdale police officers who arrived that he and Fullilove had been “drinking heavily” on the beach before returning to the room and falling asleep. He later declined to speak to detectives.
Investigators found an empty bottle of champagne, a nearly empty bottle of tequila and three flasks.
A review of Fullilove’s cellphone revealed that she openly text messaged friends about cocaine use — “doing blow and drinking,” she wrote one friend.
Earlier messages between her and Velazquez’s phone revealed a history of discussion about cocaine buying and selling. Texts from Velazquez’s phone claimed the frat supplied FIU with cocaine and included a photo of a baggie with white powder, according to detectives.
“welcome to fiu,” he wrote.
“Happy to finally be transferring to FIU lmao,” she replied.
In another exchange, Velazquez allegedly wrote: “When your frat deals coke to fiu it’s easy to get.”
“What drugs do you want to do formal night?” Fellilove replied.
The afternoon before the formal event, text messages revealed the two joked: “let’s kill formal.” Velazquez wrote: “im paying for half your ticket and drugs … I bought us a gram but thinking about getting more”.
His defense lawyer, Kenneth Weisman, said: “Sean would categorically deny that he authored or sanctioned any of the text messages allegedly originating from that phone number.”
Fort Lauderdale police, according to a report by Detective Jason Wood, closed the case after the medical examiner’s office ruled the death was accidental. A Broward State Attorney’s Office spokesman said prosecutors were not involved: “The case was not presented to us as a possible criminal act.”
Criminal charges involving overdose deaths are rare but not unheard of in South Florida.
Most recently, a North Miami drug dealer last year was charged with felony murder after the cocaine he supplied to a stripper resulted in her overdose death; he is awaiting trial.
In October 2014, Miami-Dade prosecutors charged Raymundo Rodriguez Fernandez with murder under a rarely used provision of the law that allows the charge when someone gives a user cocaine or heroin and it ends in the person’s death.
He is alleged to have fatally plied community activist Cheri Rollins with heroin, refusing to seek medical help for more than eight hours. He, too, is awaiting trial.