Thursday, November 18, 2010
Five charged in Kansas ticket scandal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Federal prosecutors charged five former
University of Kansas employees Thursday with conspiring to steal
more than $2 million in tickets to athletic events in a scandal
that embarrassed the school and likely led to the early departure
of athletic director Lew Perkins.
Prosecutors singled out former associate athletic director
Charlette Blubaugh, who was in charge of the ticket office. They
said she began stealing tickets in 2005 and gave them to other key
athletic department employees to sell, either personally or through
Blubaugh, 43, of Medford, Okla., was charged along with her
husband, Thomas Blubaugh, 46, who was a consultant to the ticket
Also charged were former assistant athletic director Rodney
Jones, 42, of Lawrence; former associate athletic director Ben
Kirtland, 54, of Lenexa, Kan.; and Kassie Liebsch, 28, of Lawrence,
who was a systems analyst working in the ticket office.
Two other former employees, Brandon Simmons and Jason Jeffries,
have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme and are scheduled
to be sentenced in federal court in March.
Investigators said the conspirators made between $3 million and
$5 million in the scheme over five years.
Revelations of the ticket scam earlier this year angered many
big-time donors who had been meeting exorbitant dollar demands for
the privilege of buying premium tickets in always sold-out Allen
Fieldhouse. Under an unpopular system imposed by Perkins to raise
money, seating was allocated on a points system based on how much a
fan donated to the Williams Fund, the money-raising arm of the
The best seats were supposed to go to the people who made the
biggest donations. That alone caused resentment, especially among
older followers who had occupied good seats for years and were
unable to meet the new demands. Many wondered whether others had
gotten good seats simply by purchasing tickets sold in the scam.
Perkins retired in September, a year earlier than previously
planned. While never accused of having anything to do with the
ticket scam, he nevertheless admitted he had been guilty of poor
oversight and said it was the most embarrassing thing that had
happened in his 40-year career.
A report conducted by a Wichita law firm and released in May
said five Kansas athletics staffers and a consultant -- none of whom
still work for the university -- 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 report showed that more than $887,000 in basketball tickets
and more than $122,000 worth of football tickets were involved.
"Being on the athletics side, the simplest way to try to
describe this is that there was a curveball thrown and I missed
it," Perkins said in May. "I missed that curveball. It got by. We
had the wrong people hired for the wrong jobs."
The report found no wrongdoing in the points system and said the
scheme's actual effect on tickets awarded was minimal.
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
The report suggested that Jones, former director of the Williams
Fund who helped determine who got premium seats at Kansas home
games, was a key player in the scandal. Kirtland, who was the
school's associate athletic director of development, told
investigators that Jones "was always on the lookout for
The report blamed Kirtland for helping create "an atmosphere
similar to a worker in a candy store" when it came to work with
It also said Charlette Blubaugh, who was in charge of the ticket
office and was the manager most familiar with the ticketing
software, played a major role.
The indictment said the scheme included entering false
information into a computer system designed to prevent tickets from
being stolen, paying kickbacks to third parties not connected to
the ticket office to sell tickets, and concealing the receipt of
outside income on reports required by the NCAA.
Jones' attorney, Gerald Handley, said he had not seen the
indictment and had no comment. It was not immediately clear if the
other four had attorneys.
Phone messages left for Perkins and Kirtland were not
immediately returned. The Williams Fund directed questions to
associate athletic director Jim Marchiony, who also didn't
immediately return a call.
No phone number was listed for Thomas and Charlette Blubaugh,
Jones or Liebsch.
A report conducted by a Wichita law firm and released in May said five Kansas athletics staffers and a consultant -- none of whom still work for the university -- 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.