Coastal Carolina University announced Friday morning its investigation into the cheerleading team has concluded and “no further action is being taken by the University.”
All cheerleading activities have been suspended since March after the university said it received an anonymous letter alleging the women were participating in prostitution, stripping, underage drinking, bullying and more.
It’s unclear from the university’s news release if any cheerleaders have been dismissed from school or won’t be allowed to try out for the team next year. CCU says it “will not be granting interviews regarding this matter.”
“The University has thoroughly investigated this matter, taking into consideration the mission of the institution and our No. 1 priority and obligation to protect the safety and well-being of our students,” said CCU President David A. DeCenzo in an emailed statement. “As a public institution with a code of ethical conduct and as a public agency entrusted with public funds, we have a duty to investigate serious allegations. We had no choice.”
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The anonymous letter dated March 8 sparked an investigation into the cheer team, and on March 28, investigators received notice that a group text message from a team member had been sent to all members of the cheerleading team that referenced the investigation and warned about the possible repercussions of certain conduct violations, according to William Plate Jr., vice president of university communication and marketing.
Amy Lawrence, an attorney who is representing eight of the cheerleaders, called the suspension “unprecedented.”
“While Coastal Carolina University may consider this matter closed, I believe that the university’s rush to judgment and use of a broad brush has damaged the many young women on the cheerleading team who had no involvement with this website,” Lawrence said. “I look forward to their stories being told in due course.”
The criminal investigation report obtained by The Sun News from Coastal Carolina University via a Freedom of Information act request alleges that some members of the CCU cheer team worked as strippers and escorts.
According to the report, cheerleaders involved in an escort service were paid between $100 and $1,500 per date.
They also would receive goods such as Michael Kors purses, as well as shoes and clothes, according to the investigation. One cheerleader was offered $800 to escort a male to New York Prime, according to the report.
The cheerleaders would not engage in sexual favors, the report stated, but the investigation found “evidence of an escort service.”
The cheerleaders ran the operation through the website seekingarrangement.com, according to the report.
The website is a legal dating website.
Text messages between cheerleaders advised team members working at strip clubs, including Thee DollHouse, to quit their jobs until after a national cheerleading competition taking place in Dayton Beach, Fla., according to the report.
The investigation found that 11 cheerleaders were aware of the escort service and seven were not aware, CCU reported.
Sexual exploitation and illicit drug use are prohibited by Coastal Carolina University’s code of student conduct.
On March 13, CCU officials, including President DeCenzo, university counsel Timothy Meacham and cheer coaches Marla Sage and Kelly Moore, met to discuss a anonymous letter mailed to DeCenzo’s office that sparked the investigation.
The letter alleged the cheerleaders were engaged in prostitution, stripping, drinking and forcing younger cheerleaders to partake in underage drinking. They were not “accepted” into the team unless they took part, according to the letter.
Investigators were able to get a picture of the person who sent the letter and signed it “a concerned parent.”
The man was white, heavy-set and had “salt and pepper-colored hair.”
According to the compete investigation report, investigators learned the identity of the man, who refused to the interviewed. The man is not identified in the report.
According to the letter, “several girls” have quit the team “due to these disgusting issues.”
The letter writer lists six allegations. He alleges: 1. Several girls are working at local strip clubs and also prostitute themselves out. 2. Several cheerleaders pay students to do their school work. 3. A veteran cheerleader hosted a party where several underage cheerleaders were caught drinking. 4. A few girls use illegal drugs, “especially smoking pot.” 5. A few of the girls provide alcohol to minors. 6. Cheerleaders buy alcohol with a fake ID and provide it to other cheerleaders and other students.
Coastal Carolina University has set a date to hold cheerleading team tryouts.
Annual tryouts for the 2017-2018 co-ed cheerleading team will be held July 23-24 with plans for the finalized team to compete in preseason camp and complete the normal process required to qualify for national competition, according to an email from Plate.
Any enrolled student at CCU is eligible to try out for the team, but members of the CCU cheerleading team must meet and maintain specific academic, athletic and conduct requirements to remain a member of the team, Plate said.
According to the 2016-17 cheerleading welcome packet, returning veterans are not guaranteed a spot on the team.
Plate said the cheerleading team coach position will be filled prior to tryouts.
According to CCU, Maureen Sullivan was the volunteer head coach from Oct. 1, 2015, through Dec. 1, 2016. Volunteer dance team coach Marla Sage has led the team since December.
According to emails obtained via a FOI, at least two people have inquired about the head cheer coach position.
School spokesman Doug Bell said there were no other details regarding the new cheer coach.
Though cheerleading is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, the CCU cheerleading team will continue to function as a part of the CCU Department of Athletics, and all competitive and game-day aspects of the team will continue to function as they have in past years, said Plate.