Sentencing set Thursday for ex-Fiesta Bowl CEO Junker
PHOENIX — A former Fiesta Bowl chief executive who admitted to participating in an illegal campaign contribution scheme faces sentencing Thursday.
The sentencing of 58-year-old John Junker in Maricopa County Superior Court will mark the end of criminal cases that arose from the contribution scandal that jeopardized the bowl’s NCAA license and led to the ouster of the longtime bowl leader.
Junker has admitted being involved in a scheme in which bowl employees made illegal campaign contributions to politicians and were reimbursed by the nonprofit bowl. Employees were reimbursed at least $46,000 for campaign contributions.
Junker was sentenced last week in federal court to eight months in prison for his part in the scheme. He will be sentenced Thursday for his guilty plea to a state charge of solicitation to commit a fraudulent scheme.
State prosecutors said they originally planned to seek a three-month jail sentence for Junker, but are now instead seeking four years of probation. They say Junker’s plea agreement calls for his state punishment to be served at the same he serves his federal sentence and noted that Junker’s federal sentence is longer than the punishment state prosecutors initially intended to request.
The scandal jeopardized the bowl’s NCAA license and its status as one of four bowls in the national college football championship rotation. The bowl retained its Bowl Championship Series status at the time. The NCAA placed it on probation for a year, and the BCS fined it $1 million.
Four other bowl employees were convicted of a state misdemeanor of making a prohibited campaign contribution, and the bowl’s former chief operating officer pleaded guilty to a federal felony conspiracy charge. All five were sentenced to probation.
The scandal also exposed the lavish spending and perks that the Fiesta Bowl heaped on lawmakers and employees — though no charges were filed involving those perks.
Junker received cars, four high-end country club memberships, a $33,000 birthday party in Pebble Beach, Calif., $1,200 for a trip to a strip club, among other benefits from the Fiesta Bowl.
Nearly 30 lawmakers received free football tickets, and some got all-expense-paid trips from the bowl, but prosecutors declined to bring any charges against them.
In his plea agreement in both federal and state court, Junker said he knew it was illegal to use other people’s names to mask the political contributions and that he made the decision to have the bowl reimburse contributors.
Junker’s attorney contends the leader of the campaign finance scheme was a lobbyist, not Junker, and that the bowl CEO wasn’t deeply involved in the day-to-day operation of the scheme.
Junker was fired as leader of the bowl in March 2011. He now works for St. Vincent de Paul’s.