Three days after the sentencing of her husband in the University of Kansas ticketing scandal, Charlette Blubaugh appeared in federal court to hear that she would spend most of the next five years in prison.
Earlier today, April 14, the former KU Associate Athletic Director appeared in a Wichita, KS, courtroom, where Judge Wesley E. Brown handed her a 57 month sentence on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Blubaugh’s prison term will be followed by three years of supervised release, and she is also responsible for a total of $2.56 million between restitution to the Athletic Department and unpaid federal taxes.
Blubaugh’s attorneys had requested that her sentence be delayed until after her husband, Thomas, completes his 46 month term, in order to allow the couple to share the care of their five and six year old children. But, Judge Brown denied this request today, requiring the couple to serve their prison terms simultaneously.
The harshness of her sentence — Charlette has received the longest sentence in the scandal thus far — is due to the fact that she was considered the “gatekeeper” of the ticket scalping conspiracy, according to prosecutors. She had the most knowledge of the crime and the means to try to cover it up.
In January, the Blubaughs pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, with associated charges of obstruction of income tax collection and transportation of stolen goods across state lines.
The government charged Charlette with entering into a conspiracy with her husband and other staffers of the athletic department to illegally obtain and sell KU sports tickets to a number of third parties, including unnamed ticket brokers. Blubaugh, the head of the department’s ticket office, secured a number of season tickets from the department’s printer and distributed them among the others for sale. She received the proceeds, which were then presumably split among the co-conspirators.
In a separate set of transactions, Blubaugh funneled a number of other tickets through her husband, Thomas. These tickets were sold only to Oklahoma brokers, and proceeds from their sale went solely to the Blubaughs.
Blubaugh was seen as a central figure in the scheme, exercising significant control in the operation. In their pre-sentencing briefs, prosecutors made strong claims against Blubaugh: “The Defendant was not the highest ranking employee of KU involved in this conspiracy, but she is one of the most culpable. She was the gatekeeper for all stolen tickets.”
The prosecution has claimed that Blubaugh engaged not only in the theft of the tickets but also in the planning of the manipulation of the athletic department’s computers to hide the theft, in addition to lying to investigators.
Though exact profit made in the scheme is difficult to estimate, monetary losses to the university from the ticket theft have hovered around the $2 million mark.
However, in a recent court filing, Charlette Blubaugh maintained that the university lost no money from the scheme, because the stolen tickets were considered “hold” tickets and were not destined for sale.
In the same filing, Blubaugh states that she noticed soon after her hire that many of these tickets were being misused by staffers in the ticket office. By 2006, when she noticed that this behavior continued unchecked, she decided to help herself to these tickets as well. However, she accuses co-defendant Rodney Jones, a former Assistant Athletic Director, of being the first to steal these tickets for the purpose of sale.
Charlette’s husband was sentenced earlier this week to 46 months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. As part of his sentence, he also must pay approximately $841,000 in restitution to the Athletic Department, and he is jointly responsible with Charlette for $268,292 in unpaid federal taxes. Thomas had been employed as a consultant to the Athletic Department from 2007 to 2010, during which time he engaged in the distribution and sale of stolen tickets and also helped to manipulate the department’s computer system to cover up the scheme.
The Blubaughs, along with Jones, his ex-supervisor Ben Kirtland, also a former Associate Athletic Director, and Kassie Liebsch, a former systems analyst who took on Charlette’s job upon her May 2010 resignation, were indicted in November on the same felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges stemmed from separate investigations by the university, the IRS and FBI into unusual activities in the athletic department’s ticket office.
In March, Liebsch was sentenced to 37 months in prison, while Jones was issued a 46 month term. Both Liebsch and Jones are also required to pay their share of a $2 million monetary judgment towards restitution, and Jones also is required to pay $114,000 in unpaid taxes.
Last month, Jason Jeffries, KU’s former Assistant Director for Ticket Operations, and Brandon W. Simmons, former Assistant Director for Sales and Marketing were handed probation sentences for misprision of felony, or having knowledge of the scheme and acting to conceal it. Simmons is also responsible for $157,480 in restitution, while Jeffries must pay $56,000. Ben Kirtland, the only remaining defendant to be sentenced, is scheduled to report to court for sentencing in May.