The last of five defendants indicted in the University of Kansas ticket scalping scandal has pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of conspiracy.
Late last week, former Associate Athletic Director Ben Kirtland appeared in U.S. District Court in Wichita, KS, to enter a guilty plea on conspiracy to commit wire fraud, with associated charges of tax evasion and transportation of stolen goods. In court, Kirtland acknowledged his role in the scheme to sell Athletic Department tickets for Jayhawks football and basketball games to third parties for profit.
Kirtland was indicted in November along with former Associate Athletic Director Charlotte Blubaugh, her husband Thomas (previously paid as a consultant to the Athletic Department), former Assistant Athletic Director Rodney Jones and former department staffer Kassie Liebsch, who was promoted to Charlotte Blubaugh’s position upon Blubaugh’s resignation last May. With Kirtland’s plea, all have now entered guilty pleas to their charges and await sentencing.
According to previous prosecution statements, Charlotte Blubaugh entered into a conspiracy with Jones, Kirtland and Liebsch to obtain and sell Athletic Department tickets to third parties, including brokers. Charlotte secured a number of Athletic Department season tickets from the department’s printer and distributed them among the other three for the purpose of sale. Proceeds from these sales went back to Blubaugh, and then presumably were split among the co-conspirators. In a separate set of transactions, Blubaugh also funneled a number of other tickets through her husband, Thomas. These tickets were sold to only Oklahoma brokers, and proceeds from their sale went solely to the Blubaughs. Prosecutors estimate that proceeds from these sales topped the $2 million mark.
In last week’s hearing, Kirtland admitted to selling these tickets to third parties and splitting the profits with an unnamed co-defendant. He reported having converted checks into money orders to avoid a paper trail, as well as having failed to report this extra income to the IRS and in mandatory reports to the NCAA. Kirtland acknowledged that he knew that his actions were illegal and had resulted in defrauding the university and Kansas Athletics, Inc. He estimated that, between the years of 2005 and 2009, he sold more than $120,000 in Jayhawks tickets. In court, he agreed to pay his share of the $2 million settlement which the government is seeking in penalties, making him the fifth and last of the indicted to agree to such repayment.
Kirtland’s sentencing date is set for May 12. The conspiracy charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, but he will likely receive a lesser sentence under federal sentencing guidelines.
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 and have cooperated with investigators. Jeffries, Simmons, Jones and Liebsch all have March sentencing dates, with the Blubaughs scheduled to return for sentencing in April.