Ex-Fiesta Bowl executive pleads guilty
The former chief operating officer of the Fiesta Bowl pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony federal conspiracy charge for her role in a fraudulent campaign-contribution scheme.
Natalie Wisneski entered the plea Thursday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix and could face up to a year in prison when she’s sentenced on June 16. She also could receive probation.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss eight other felony counts as part of the agreement. Wisneski must cooperate with federal prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service in continuing investigations into the bowl scandal.
Wisneski resigned from her job at the bowl last March and was indicted by a federal grand jury in November.
Wisneski’s ex-boss, former Fiesta Bowl chief John Junker, pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the scheme earlier this week. Last month, he entered a plea agreement with state prosecutors, entering a guilty plea to a felony charge stemming from a political donations scandal that nearly jeopardized the bowl’s role as a regular host of college football’s national championship game.
His lawyer has said that Junker faces a combined 2 1/2 years in prison.
Junker and Wisneski admitted they conspired with each other and a bowl lobbyist to ask bowl employees to make campaign contributions. The employers were then reimbursed by the bowl.
Bowl lobbyist Gary Husk has not been charged, but is an apparent target of state and federal prosecutors who now have plea agreements pledging cooperation with the other two major players in the scandal. An independent investigation done by bowl lawyers found that he participated in and coordinated the political donations reimbursement scheme.
Husk has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Rick Romley, wasn’t immediately available Thursday. But he released a statement after Junker’s plea saying it showed ”the same pattern of self-serving behavior he showed for years” as the leader of the bowl.
The 276-page bowl investigation report found the ”apparent scheme” to reimburse at least $46,539 for employees’ political contributions. It also reported lavish spending by Junker.
The scandal led to the firing last year of Junker, the bowl’s longtime leader, and the resignation of Wisneski.
The Fiesta Bowl organization was spared the worst sanctions – the loss of the championship game, which it hosts every four years, and its NCAA license.