Two more ex-staffers indicted in the University of Kansas ticketing scandal have pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges.
Late last week, former Associate Athletic Director Charlotte Blubaugh and her husband Thomas, previously employed as a consultant to the Athletic Department, changed their pleas to guilty before U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown in a Wichita, KS, court.
On January 27, Charlotte Blubaugh pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, including charges of transportation of stolen goods and tax evasion. The following day, Thomas, a former athletic ticket director for the University of Oklahoma, appeared before Judge Brown to plead guilty to the same charge.
The indictments arose from KU’s internal investigation into the athletic department after federal authorities began looking into the activities of Rodney Jones. At the time, Jones was Assistant Athletic Director and in charge of the Williams Educational Fund, the fundraising arm of the department which managed the disbursement of seats to alumni according to donation level.
KU’s investigation concluded that the Blubaughs, Jones, former associate Athletic Director Ben Kirtland, and former Associate Athletic Director Kassie Liebsch were involved in a scheme to acquire and sell for profit nearly 20,000 basketball and football tickets belonging to the athletic department. The KU inquiry, along with investigations by both the FBI and IRS, led to the November indictments of all five former employees. Jones and Liebschentered their own guilty pleas to the same charges earlier this month.
At Charlotte Blubaugh’s hearing last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway revealed more details about the ticket selling scheme, which reportedly ran from 2005 until 2010. Investigators found that during this time Charlotte entered into a conspiracy with Jones, Kirtland and Liebsch to obtain and sell the AD tickets to third parties for profit. According to Hathaway, Charlotte secured a number of athletic department season tickets from the department’s printer to be passed on to the other three for sale to brokers and others. The use of the internet in making these sales invoked the wire fraud charge.
Blubaugh also funneled numerous other tickets through her husband, and these were sold only to Oklahoma brokers. The proceeds from this set of sales were retained by the Blubaughs only. None of the group’s profits were reported to either the IRS or the NCAA, violating NCAA rules and triggering tax evasion charges. In recent months, estimates of the value of the tickets sold ran from a low of $1 million up to $5 million, with the government settling on a $2 million repayment from the co-conspirators.
Sentencing for the couple is set for April 14. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in jail and up to $250,000 in fines. While their prison time will most likely be reduced under federal sentencing guidelines, both have agreed to pay their part of the $2 million settlement sought by the government. Jones and Liebsch are scheduled to appear for sentencing in March, leaving Kirtland as the sole remaining defendant facing trial on March 8.
In July, two other former department staffers were charged in the case: Jason Jeffries, KU’s former Assistant Director for Ticket Operations, and Brandon W. Simmons, former Assistant Director for Sales and Marketing were both charged with misprision of felony, or having the knowledge of a committed felony and acting to concealing it. Criminal information documents filed in Topeka’s federal court alleged that Simmons and Jeffries were aware of the theft of over $5,000 in tickets from the department but failed to report this to authorities. Both men have pleaded guilty to the charges, have cooperated with the authorities, and are due to be sentenced in March as well. The pair may receive up to three years in prison and be fined up to $250,000.
Also last week, former KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins settled a separate and unrelated state ethics charge that he accepted free exercise equipment from a university vendor in 2005. Because the state funded a portion of Perkins’ AD salary, he was charged under a Kansas law prohibiting state employees from accepting most gifts. Perkins offered Kansas’ Governmental Ethics Board a monetary settlement of $4,000, acknowledging no wrongdoing in the matter. The Board accepted the offer and will not pursue further actions on the charge.