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Charges dropped against MIT trio

School's prank tradition cited

CAMBRIDGE -- With the backing of MIT, Middlesex County prosecutors yesterday dropped criminal charges against three university students who sneaked into the MIT Faculty Club as part of the school's tradition of pranks.

Students Kristina Brown , 19, David Nawi , 29, and Matthew Petersen , 19, appeared in Cambridge District Court, where prosecutors formally said no crime had been committed.

Prosecutors acted after Cambridge District Court Judge Severlin B. Singleton refused to dismiss the felony breaking and entering charges . Prosecutors later filed the necessary paperwork , and the case ended.

The students, under instruction from their attorneys, declined to comment about the case.

Speaking on behalf of the students, one of their attorneys, John M. Moscardelli , said the three were glad to no longer face criminal charges that carry up to 20 years imprisonment. "The defendants are gratified that the district attorney's office chose to [drop] the case and that they were guided, in part, by the MIT administration and the MIT Police," he said.

MIT Police Chief John DiFava did not respond to an e -mail or a telephone call seeking comment, while the university issued a one-sentence statement.

"After further discussions with the Middlesex County district attorney's office, MIT, and counsel for the students, this matter will now be addressed through MIT's internal disciplinary procedures, rather than through further court proceedings," the statement said.

The case caused controversy on campus because the school has implicitly endorsed such pranks, known as "hacking," and records some of the more famous incidents on a university website.

According to an MIT Police report, officers were investigating a burglar alarm in the Faculty Club on Massachusetts Avenue on Oct. 22 when they found the three students in the sixth-floor kitchen.

The students were all charged with breaking and entering in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony and trespassing. Petersen was also charged with possession of burglarious tools when officers found he carried a slim piece of metal. Police said a panel in the wall had been opened that "looked to lead to a crawl space inside the ceiling and walls." Police said the area was marked with " no trespassing " signs.

However, in an affidavit Nawi filed with a motion seeking dismissal of the charges, he said the three students rode an elevator to the sixth floor, the building was open, and there were no signs restricting access.

"We were engaged in a practice that is commonly known at MIT as 'hacking,' " Nawi wrote.

John R. Ellement can be reached at