KU: $1M of tickets sold ‘inappropriately’
The University of Kansas said Wednesday that a secretive scam by six university employees included the "inappropriate'' sale of $1 million worth of men's basketball and football tickets over the past five years.
The school said its findings, contained in a report done by a Wichita law firm, have been sent to federal investigators already looking into allegations of wrongdoing in the athletics department and the school's athletics fundraising arm, the Williams Educational Fund.
The investigation said five Kansas athletics staffers and a consultant – all of them no longer employed by the school – sold or used at least 17,609 men's basketball tickets, 2,181 football tickets and a number of parking passes and other passes for personal purposes.
"The portion of the $1 million face value of tickets inappropriately sold directly to brokers by Kansas Athletics Inc. ("KAI'') employees cannot definitely be determined,'' the report said. "The distribution of some of these tickets to brokers appears to have been disguised by various KAI development and ticketing personnel'' as complimentary tickets.
The investigation estimated the losses could be as much as $3 million – over $887,000 from basketball tickets – and believe the scam may have started several years earlier.
The university said it will take immediate measures to prevent wrongdoing within the ticket office.
The investigation began in March amid reports that tickets to Jayhawk basketball games – both at Allen Fieldhouse and in NCAA tournaments – were being scalped by officials within the athletic department.
The 29-page report, backed up by 240 pages of exhibits, suggested former Williams Fund director Rodney Jones, who helped determine who got premium seats at Kansas home games, was a key player in the scandal.
Jones joined the ticket office in 1997 and became its director six years later. In 2004 he was appointed to a $70,000-a-year job running the Williams Fund. When he left in March, Jones was making $135,000 a year and $8,000 in bonuses.
Ben Kirtland, the school's associate athletic director of development, told investigators that Jones "was always on the lookout for development tickets.'' But the report said Kirtland was also to blame, saying he helped create "an atmosphere similar to a worker in a candy store'' when it came to work with the tickets.
"It was only after the federal authorities began to ask questions that Kirtland began to reveal facts he knew about Jones and expressed his belief that Jones was selling tickets and could be making as much as $75,000 to $100,000 a year in additional income,'' the report said. "Kirtland finally admitted to his own culpability in the selling of tickets .. that he and Jones had not only violated the rules pertaining to the number of tickets available to donors, they had personally kept the money from selling tickets to them.''
Jones' attorney, Gerald Handley, also didn't respond to AP requests for comment Wednesday. The report said getting details out of Jones – who did not cooperate in the law firm's probe – was best left to federal authorities.
The report also singled out Charlette Blubaugh, the former associate athletic director in charge of the ticket office and the manager most familiar with the ticketing software.
Blubaugh allegedly arranged to have ticket records destroyed and then suggested it be blamed on stadium construction, the report said. And at the 2009 NCAA tournament, after a Kansas loss, Blubaugh and others went out and sold the unneeded Elite Eight tickets "on the floor.'' One staffer came back with a bag of $3,400 in cash, but Blubaugh never turned hers in.
"Blubaugh used her position to improperly direct tickets to subordinates … so that they could be sold to ticket brokers and the proceeds kept,'' according to the report. "We have also discovered a 'fake account' for the 'sale' of season tickets that appear were mailed to Blubaugh's former addresses.''
Two of her assistants, Brandon Simmons and Jason Jeffries, "sold over $200,000 worth of tickets through brokers with Blubaugh's knowledge and consent,'' the report said.
Investigators recommended civil charges against all five former employees mentioned in the report as well as Blubaugh's husband, Tom, who did consulting work.
Mentioned briefly in the report was David Freeman, a close friend of Jones whose attorney has confirmed that his client is talking with investigators about the ticket scheme.
Freeman is also a former business partner with former Kansas basketball standout Roger Morningstar, whose son, Brady, is a current member of the team.
Freeman's attorney, Carl Cornwell, did not return phone calls and an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment Wednesday.