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The Cambridge Fire Department (CFD) may soon file arson charges against the president of the Harvard Lampoon, the consequence of a small fire at the organization's Bow Street castle last week, CFD officials confirmed yesterday.
Stephen C. Hely '02, has been accused by CFD investigators of intentionally setting a newspaper on fire during a May 16 party--the latest in a series of fire and police-related incidents involving the Lampoon that have angered Cambridge city officials.
In addition to the possible arson charge, the organization could face fines and even eviction due to numerous fire code violations, city officials said yesterday.
Investigators said that last Tuesday morning, at 3:18 a.m., a lit newspaper in the castle set off fire alarms. Moments later, a Lampoon member called 911 and told an operator that firefighters didn't need to respond--the fire had been extinguished.
But the CFD responded anyway.
When firefighters arrived, they found the burnt newspaper, and requested that a department investigator come to the scene.
CFD investigators said they believed Hely started the fire.
"It does not appear it was his intent to do serious damage," said Deputy Chief Gerald Reardon, a department spokesperson.
But the CFD takes any set fire seriously, said Michael Morrissey, the head of the CFD's Fire Investigation Unit (FIU).
"If we find an intentional fire, we prosecute," Morrissey said.
The fire aside, unfounded calls for service have angered the CFD and the city in recent months.
While Cambridge police and fire units responded to the Lampoon only 10 times in all of 1999, they have responded 13 times to the building in the first five months of this year, Cambridge records show.
A total of six calls--three noise complaints and three fire alarms--have come in the last two weeks alone.
The night of the fire, records show the Cambridge Police Department responded to quell a noise complaint at 7:26 a.m.--only four hours after CFD investigated the fire alarm and found the burnt newspaper. At that time, CFD had asked the party be stopped.
Since the Lampoon's membership is comprised of Harvard students, the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) has been working with the CFD to resolve the matter.
According to Peggy A. McNamara, HUPD spokesperson, the Lampoon's attitude toward city officers has not been helpful.
She said that the Lampoon has continually shown an "arrogant response to police, fire, and the community."
"We have no sympathy for an organization that consistently fails to bring its building up to fire code," McNamara said.
Several current Lampoon members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, defended their organization's conduct.
"It's been a problem with our alarm system, which has been fixed. It totally wasn't our fault," said one.
Hely declined comment last night except to confirm that a new alarm panel had been installed yesterday.
A Lampoon member who answered the castle door last night said the problems were caused by a rift between the Lampoon and CFD.
"We're going through some tough times in our personal relationship," he said.
"The fire department is just doing their job," he added.
But fire officials say the Lampoon is lucky a firefighter wasn't hurt during their response--if so, the leaders of the organization could have faced felony charges--with a minimum of ten years in jail.
If criminal charges are filed against Hely, he and other Lampoon executives might also face action by Harvard College's administrative board.
In a case where a student faces criminal charges but does not seem to pose a threat to other students, the College would normally wait until the courts have resolved the issue before pursuing any action, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 wrote in an e-mail yesterday.
"But a lot depends on the particular circumstances," Lewis wrote.
Lewis declined to comment on the Lampoon's specific case.
Cambridge's involvement comes just a week after Adams House residents complained to Harvard administrators about loud parties at the castle lasting into the wee hours of the morning.
"I...told [Hely] that these kinds of disturbances were unacceptable and was given the assurance that there would be no further problems," Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth wrote in an e-mail message last week.
HUPD Chief Francis D. "Bud" Riley said he has been in contact this week with Thomas W. Beale '71, a member of the Lampoon's graduate board to discuss the "on-going problems."
"He has indicated that the Lampoon will be willing to do whatever it takes to make this right," Riley said.
Beale said last night that he has "no idea at this point" whether there will be consequences for the Lampoon and its executives. "We're still trying to figure out what's going on."
According to a University official, the Lampoon could face consequences if the situation is not resolved soon.
"It could get extremely complicated," the source said.
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