Two former employees of the University of Kansas Athletic Department, indicted on federal conspiracy charges related to the school’s ticket scalping scandal, will appear in a Wichita, KS, federal court next week for “change of plea” hearings.
In December, former Assistant Athletic Director Rodney Jones entered a plea of not guilty to charges that he and four others engaged in the illegal sale of Athletic Department tickets to third parties for profit. Jones was restricted to a “not guilty” plea at that hearing before a Wichita magistrate, with all other pleas typically heard in District Court. Jones’ alleged co-conspirator, former Associate Athletic Director, Kassie Liebsch, did not appear to enter a plea, but instead requested a continuance for a future “change of plea” hearing. Next week, both will appear before a U.S. District Court judge, Liebsch on the January 13 and Jones the next day, presumably to plead guilty to the charges.
Jones and Liebsch, along with former Associate Athletic Director Charlotte Blubaugh, her husband Thomas, and Jones’ ex-supervisor, former associate Athletic Director Ben Kirtland, all were indicted in December on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. These charges are related to the group’s alleged illegal acquisition and sale of nearly 20,000 basketball and football tickets belonging to the Athletic Department, dating back at least to 2005.
Last July, two other former Athletic Department employees were charged with knowledge and concealment of the ticketing scheme. Jason Jeffries, KU’s former Assistant Director for Ticket Operations, and Brandon W. Simmons, former Assistant Director for Sales and Marketing were charged with misprision of felony, which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. The two men have entered guilty pleas, have cooperated with investigators and are preparing for sentencing in March.
Prosecutors believe that Charlotte Blubaugh stole tickets from the AD’s office and funneled them to Kirtland, Jones, Liebsch, Simmons and Jeffries for the purposes of sale to ticket brokers and other third parties. In order to hide these transactions, payment from these third parties was apparently taken in cash or in checks made out to those not associated with the department. The group also is accused of providing kickbacks to their sellers in return for their services, subverting computer software meant to prevent ticket theft in the AD, and omitting the receipt of these outside funds on NCAA forms.
Included within the conspiracy charges are allegations of obstruction of income tax collection and transporting stolen goods across state lines. The use of the internet for these transactions invoked the wire fraud charge. The government is seeking a payment of up to $5 million from those indicted as repayment of the estimated value of the tickets sold.
After next week’s hearings, the remaining three defendants, Kirtland and the Blubaugh’s, are scheduled for trial on February 15. The federal conspiracy charges carry a maximum of 30 years in federal prison and up to $1 million in fines.
Lew Perkins, Athletic Director at KU since 2003, retired abruptly in September in the wake of this and other controversies over recent years, including accusations that he accepted exercise equipment in his home in return for favors as well as allegations of expensive work-related travel. A well-regarded Athletic Director at the University of Connecticut in the 1990’s, Perkins has consistently denied any direct involvement with the recent ticketing scheme, though he has acknowledged that he should have had better oversight of the Department during his time there. One month after news of the scandal broke, Perkins announced plans to retire in September of 2011, but on September 7 he announced his immediate resignation.
Soon after, University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little appointed a search committee for the purposes of hiring a new AD, and on January 3 Gray-Little announced that Illinois State University Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger will be assuming the role of KU’s Athletic Director on February 1.