Florida university lifts suspension of fraternity embroiled in rape scandal

A Florida fraternity where two members were accused of raping a woman at a party last month held a rush event for pledges Thursday a day after administrators lifted an interim suspension.

Central Florida University suspended Alpha Tau Omega following the arrest of two members – Antonio Ortiz Candido, 21, and Alexander Garces, 22,-- on charges of sexual battery and kidnapping earlier this month.

The university lifted the suspension Wednesday after the chapter agreed not to hold any fall 2017 social events and said all members would undergo health and safety training.

The fraternity remains under investigation by the university. It’s the third time in five years the on-campus fraternity has been disciplined.

University spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin told Orlando Sentinel the conduct review process could last months and could result in additional sanctions. The university could impose a long-term suspension or revoke the chapter’s charter on campus.

“ATO is committed to working with UCF officials regarding compliance with the university’s guidelines relating to chapter operations,” the fraternity’s national office said in statement.

The statement added that they chapter will focus on “philanthropic activities and community service projects” during the fall semester.

Garces and Candido are accused of raping the woman during a “Christmas in July" Party at the fraternity.

According to police Garces invited the woman upstairs during the party with Candido and in the bedroom, the woman said Garces became “very aggressive.”

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Police said in the bedroom one of the men locked the door and started blasting music from a cellphone. They said Garces forcefully pulled the women’s legs toward him and started touching her sexually.

The woman then performed oral sex on Garces, hoping it would stop the attack, but the UCF senior continued to be aggressive, police said.

After he left the room, police said Candido forced the woman onto the bed, pinned her down and raped her.

She fled the party when the two men abruptly left. Police said that surveillance footage corroborated what the woman described after she said she was raped.

Wynn Smiley, the CEO of the Alpha Tau Omega national organization, told the Sentinel that Candido and Garces have been suspended. Ortiz graduated from UCF in the spring.

Smiley said the fraternity is working with law enforcement conducting the criminal investigation.

He said that while Candido and Garces were fraternity members and the alleged incident took place at the fraternity, it had “nothing to do with the chapter.”

The fraternity was suspended in 2012 after accusations that a pledge was forced to stand in a bucket of ice water while fraternity members beat him. A year later and while on probation, the chapter was suspended again for underage drinking and other violations after a similar “New Years in July Party.”

Smiley said it was not fair to hold current students responsible for past problems because membership turns over every few years.

“This is a chapter that was the top UCF chapter last year,” he told the sentinel. “It’s one of our well-run chapters.”

In its statement, the national office said the UCF chapter had hired off-duty campus police and security officers to monitor the July event and check IDs. The fraternity also hired a third-party vendor to serve alcohol at the party.