Photo by Marcus Casey
Coffin and Keys email ignites Pereira’s potential impeachment
By Alex Mosher
It started with an email.
“That email contained info regarding Coffin and Keys,” said Alex Bybee, Vice President of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada. “The email contained the identities of members, and it contained a letter from me writing to them as someone who was a potential tap for the organization.”
ASUN Attorney General Steven Kish was not supposed to receive the email, but on February 9 it appeared in his inbox. Shortly thereafter, upon learning Christopher Cuellar had mistakenly sent the e-mail to Kish, ASUN President and Coffin and Keys member Jake Pereira entered Sigma Phi Epsilon, the fraternity both Kish and Pereira are members of, and asked Kish if they could speak privately.
Steve Bezick, a fellow fraternity and Coffin and Keys member was also present.
“I said ‘Obviously you received an email that you weren’t supposed to,’ and before even asking him to delete it, he pulled out his iPad and deleted it,” Pereira said.
According to Kish however, Pereira made several comments leading up to the email’s deletion.
Kish said Pereira and Bezick admitted to being members of Coffin and Keys and then they proceeded to make comments along the lines of, “This is the kind of screw-up that only happens once every ten years,” and “It’d be in your best interest for you to do so after all it wasn’t a coincidence that you were appointed attorney general.”
An hour after Pereira and Bezick left Kish’s room they returned to make sure there wasn’t a trace of the email.
On March 10 during the ASUN presidential debates, Pereira was asked by an audience member to respond to allegations of being in “corrupt secret organizations on campus,” namely Coffin and Keys.
“Going back to those allegations of being in secret organizations such as Coffin and Keys…I’d like to deny my membership in said organization as well as the fact that these organizations will dictate any part of the visions and goals of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada,” Pereira said.
On April 16, the day Pereira took the president’s oath of office, Kish filed a charge against Pereira stating that Pereira had intimidated, coerced and bribed him into deleting the email.
“I originally intended not to bring it up,” Kish said. “It’s not easy to admit I was intimidated by it or wanted to leave it alone, but after awhile, I decided it would be better to file the charge and keep the integrity of the association.”
Kish and Pereira discussed the charges before they were filed, and according to Kish, Pereira was willing to open up the discussion to the judicial council and student body.
At the Council hearing, Pereira admitted to being a member of Coffin and Keys but asserted that the secret organization does not have influence over his presidency.
Pereira acknowledged he had lied during the presidential debates but denied intimidating Kish, stating that he and Bezick approached Kish as fraternity brothers and the environment was never hostile. Nevertheless, when questioned by the Council, Kish reiterated that he felt threatened.
The Council decided that because Kish felt threatened and because Pereira had lied to his constituents in the presidential debates, they would move forward with the impeachment proceedings.
On May 7, the Senate will meet and a majority vote will decide whether or not to continue with an impeachment trial. If the Senate decides to proceed with an impeachment, Pereira will be put on trial, and a two-thirds vote from Senate is necessary to convict him.
Following the conviction, a two-thirds vote from Senate is necessary to decide the president’s punishment, which could be one of three possibilities. The lightest of sentences is censure, which would require the president to issue an apology in The Nevada Sagebrush. The other options are removal from office or removal from office with prejudice, which would mean Pereira could never hold an office in ASUN again.
If the Senate doesn’t arrive to a two-thirds vote on either his impeachment or his punishment, Kish said the Senate would have to discuss the charges further.
If Pereira is removed from office, Bybee will assume the role of ASUN president.
Because Pereira and Bybee have stated that they will continue their memberships in Coffin and Keys, questions remain as to whether being a member of the secret organization is a conflict of interest with being an elected official in ASUN.
Pereria and Bybee said that their membership in Coffin and Keys does not influence their decisions in ASUN.
“The other day I spent eight hours in a Board of Regents meeting listening to president’s from across the state and listening to the Board of Regents voice their concerns about issues that are going to be affecting our students at the University of Nevada,” Pereira said. “I’d like to ask people, what does Coffin and Keys have to do with that?’”
However, the Council’s assenting opinion states that Pereira has shown a conflict of interest by lying to his constituents in the presidential debate.
Pereira admitted he answered the question inquiring his membership in Coffin and Keys during the presidential debate incorrectly, but said it was because he had a commitment to the organization to retain secrecy.
According to UNR’s university history webpage, Coffin and Keys first appeared on campus almost a century ago with the purpose of promoting the common good. The organization was not always anonymous, however it wasn’t until 1962 that they decided to hide their identities.
Pereira and Bybee could not attest as to why it is necessary for the organization to be anonymous in order to better the university, but they have said that they will continue to be members because they believe in the organization’s potential to be beneficial.
“It’s a group of outstanding individuals, it’s an opportunity for us to speak with other people on campus and it’s to understand what’s going on in the different factions,” Bybee said.
Citing the secretive nature of Coffin and Keys, Pereira and Bybee would not give specific examples of how the organization has improved the university.
Former senator from the 81st session, Ashley Tarchione believes that Pereira and Bybee’s roles in Coffin and Keys and ASUN do create a conflict of interest because Coffin and Keys publishes demeaning articles about ASUN officials.
Although Pereira and Bybee have both stated that neither of them has ever contributed to the newsletters, Tarchione believes their affiliation with an organization that writes these articles creates distrust within the association.
“Do you want to have that kind of environment when you’re working in ASUN where you’re not able to trust the person next to you, or to know the person next to you might not have the same ethical standards that you hold yourself accountable to?” Tarchione said.
Assistant Dean for the Office of Student Conduct Carol Millie said that on multiple occasions students have come into her office very distraught over the Coffin and Keys newsletters, either because malicious comments were written about them or because of the homophobic and sexist innuendos.
“We have students that feel intimidated and harassed by this Coffin and Keys organization, but we don’t know who it is,” Millie said. “It’s hard to address because of the anonymity that they hide behind.”
Pereira said he has been distant from the organization because of articles in the newsletter, and Bybee said he has expressed his displeasure with the members of Coffin and Keys about the content of newsletters.
Pereira said he has learned from this incident, and he asserts that since he took the oath of office on April 16, he has been open and honest about the situation.
He expressed that although he believes the discussion was warranted, he’s frustrated that the impeachment process has delayed him in executing many of his duties as president.
Because of the impeachment, appointing ASUN officials for the next session has been suspended and has halted the student government as it prepares for next year.
“I know a lot of students don’t even realize that they’re paying the president and the vice president, and they’re paying for this to effectively shut down the progress of our student government,” Tarchione said.
In a memo sent out to the Senate on May 1, Kish said that he initially filed the charges because he questioned Jake’s allegiances, but since then he has had multiple conversations with Jake that have assuaged his concerns.
“I personally feel impeachment goes too far in this instance given the fact that Jake has shown exactly where his head is, the motivation for his actions, and the direction he wants to move in,” Kish said in the memo.
Pereira and Bybee said their offices in ASUN take priority over Coffin and Keys, and they hope students hold them accountable to the goals they promised in their campaign.
Pereira said he’s very grateful to those who support him and accept that he made a mistake. A Facebook page entitled, “We Stand with Jake Pereira,” received over 500 likes within 24 hours of being created.
“I ran for this position because I’m passionate about the University of Nevada,” Pereira said. “I mean, if I had my own corrupt personal agenda, I would not have gone to as many clubs and organizations as I did. I would not have allowed my platform to evolve from the beginning of the campaign to the end of the campaign because of the input of students. I wouldn’t be consistently reaching out to people to figure out how we can make this place better. It’s not about Coffin and Keys.”
Alex Mosher can be reached at email@example.com.