Ex-school official admits role in ticket scam

A former University of Kansas athletics official pleaded guilty
Friday for his role in a $2 million ticket-scalping scheme,
shedding light on how authorities uncovered a scam that brought
down seven former university employees.

Rodney Jones, the school’s former assistant athletic
director, admitted his part in a conspiracy that began in 2005. The
scheme unraveled last year, after the Internal Revenue Service
noticed an inordinate amount of season tickets being sold by one
broker whose checks for about $975,000 were cashed by Jones’
friend at the broker’s bank.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway revealed at
Friday’s hearing that investigators did a “trash
pull” at the friend’s house and discovered all but one
of an undisclosed number of ticket stubs were in consecutive order.
The unidentified friend told agents who confronted him that he
believed the basketball and football tickets had been lawfully
obtained by Jones.

Hathaway also told the judge that Jones converted cash from the
ticket sales into money orders in amounts of between $400 and $500
to avoid currency reporting requirements. The government contends
Jones got the tickets from three other athletics department
employees.

Jones, 42, of Lawrence, was in charge of the Williams
Educational Fund, the university’s fundraising arm that uses
the sale of tickets to contribute to scholastic and athletic
scholarships for students. Hathaway said Jones has cooperated since
being confronted by investigators.

His defense attorney, Gerald Handley, gave reporters a written
statement before Friday’s court hearing that said Jones
accepted responsibility for his role.

“He deeply regrets his involvement in this episode. He
apologizes to the university for his conduct,” the statement
read. “He has agreed to and is cooperating with the
authorities to resolve the issues that are referred to in the
indictment.”

Jones pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy for illegal
acts such as wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen goods
and obstruction in the collection of income taxes. He could face up
to 20 years in prison when sentenced March 31, but will likely
receive less under federal sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a lighter sentence if Jones
provides substantial assistance to investigators. U.S. District
Judge Wesley Brown is not bound by that recommendation.

As part of the plea deal, Jones agreed not to contest a $2
million judgment against him, an amount that is to be paid jointly
by all the defendants.

Brandon Simmons, the school’s former assistant athletic
director for sales, and Jason Jeffries, the former assistant
director of ticket operations, pleaded guilty in July to knowing
about the ticket scam and failing to report it to authorities. They
will be sentenced March 7.

Jones and four other former employees were indicted on a single
conspiracy count in November. Former systems analyst Kassie Liebsch
pleaded guilty to conspiracy this week.

The remaining three defendants — former associate athletic
director Charlette Blubaugh; her husband, Thomas, a consultant for
the ticket office; and former associate athletic director Ben
Kirtland — are set for trial in February, although that date
is likely to be postponed.

Hathaway said Jones split the proceeds from the ticket sales
with Kirtland and Liebsch.

Investigators from the IRS and FBI discovered that university
policy prohibits the resale of the two complimentary tickets
employees receive, which are reported as taxable income for its
employees. Agents also found Jones did not report the outside
income as required by NCAA rules.