The missing link among the five Penn students accused of assaulting a Princeton University student last month is their affiliation with the underground organization the Owl Society, sources said.

The students, who will enter their pleas at a hearing this morning, allegedly poured motor oil over and threw a lit cigarette at Princeton student John Brantl, who was visiting Penn for a debate tournament on Nov. 16.

The three Penn upperclassmen -- College sophomore Thomas Bispham Jr., Wharton sophomore Tavraj Banga and College senior Steven Stolk -- are members of the secret society, according to two students who did not want their names printed.

Additionally, the two College freshmen arrested -- David Hochfelder and Philip Balderston -- were seeking membership in the organization, according to one of the sources, who was recruited to become a member last year but decided not to join.

"All five students are affiliated with the Owl Society," the student wrote in an email. "The two sophomores and senior are actually in Owls, and the two freshmen want to be in Owls."

Bispham and Banga reside at 4000 Pine Street, which is known on campus as the house of the Owl Society. Stolk also lived at the house last year.

"The three upperclassmen are in the Owl Society from our records," said the second student, who is affiliated with the Greek system. "The way they operate is that they find you during the first semester. They operate behind closed doors."

The students are currently being charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment of another person's life, terroristic threats, simple assault, criminal conspiracy and possession of an instrument of crime.

The Office of Student Conduct acknowledged that it was aware of rumors that the students were affiliated with the Owls, but could not offer any confirmation because of its ongoing investigation.

"I've heard the same rumors," OSC Director Michele Goldfarb said. "I cannot confirm or deny them."

The OSC is conducting an investigation into the incident in order to determine whether or not the University will take disciplinary action against the students involved. Goldfarb said she could not comment on the case while it is in progress.

"On any given matter, the OSC can only affect the relationship of the student to the University," Goldfarb said. "There are a range of potential consequences, and it is premature to speculate."

At this time, the students have not been suspended from classes.

The University "has taken no official action along those lines," University spokeswoman Phyllis Holtzman said.

When students are undergoing criminal and OSC investigations simultaneously, they are permitted to have their attorneys serve as advisors throughout the OSC investigation.

"The attorney can act as an advisor if [the] student chooses," Goldfarb said.

Neither Goldfarb nor Holtzman was aware of any official apologies issued by Penn at this point.

The students' preliminary criminal hearing will be held today at 8 a.m. The hearing will determine whether or not there is enough evidence to substantiate the charges against the students. If sufficient evidence is found, a trial date will also be set.

Hochfelder's parents declined to comment on the arrests. The parents of the other students could not be reached for comment last night.

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