Thursday, March 31, 2011
Rodney Jones to serve 4 years in prison
WICHITA, Kan. -- A former assistant athletics director at the University of Kansas was sentenced Thursday to nearly four years in prison for a $2 million ticket-scalping conspiracy so extensive that the judge cited the length of time it lasted and the economic damage it caused in rendering his decision.
Rodney Jones of Lawrence fought back tears as U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown imposed the 46-month prison term sought by prosecutors rather than the probationary or alternative sentence the defense attorney had requested. Jones' voice broke and he spoke haltingly as he apologized and told the judge he accepted full responsibility.
"I have made a terrible mistake I will continue to pay for [it for] the rest of my life," Jones said.
In addition to the prison term, Brown ordered Jones to pay restitution, including more than $1.19 million to be paid jointly by all the co-defendants to the university and $113,843 in back taxes that Jones personally owes to the Internal Revenue Service for unreported income from the fraud. The judge also ordered a separate $2 million forfeiture judgment for which all the conspirators are jointly and individually liable.
Seven people have been caught in the investigation into the unlawful sale of football and basketball season tickets by key athletics department officials to ticket brokers and others, in which the employees pocketed the money. All pleaded guilty.
The University of Kansas issued a statement Thursday thanking federal investigators and prosecutors for their "diligent work" on the case.
"From when we first learned of these crimes, the KU community has been seeking justice," the university said in a rare official statement on the criminal cases. "Through these sentences, that justice is in the process of being delivered."
Jones, 42, pleaded guilty in January to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States through wire fraud, tax obstruction and interstate transportation of stolen property.
Brown took notice of the regret Jones expressed in court.
"The court regrets it also. It will depend on how you handle it," the judge said. "I am sure with your background you will have a better opportunity than most people do when they get out in society to be a productive citizen."
Prosecutors had sought the 46-month sentence, arguing in a court papers that Jones in collusion with others decimated the athletic department and deprived the university and its students of revenues that should have gone toward student scholarships, housing, and other benefits.
Jones was in charge of the Williams Educational Fund, the school's fundraising arm. Funds raised from the sale of tickets contribute to scholastic and athletic scholarships for students.
The government made no arguments in open court, but noted in its filings that Jones maintained an upscale apartment on the Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., and frittered money away on an "extensive rolling party scene" that lasted for five years.
"The defendant's conduct was extensive and protracted. It brought him vast wealth that he pretty much lavished upon himself with a lifestyle he could otherwise ill-afford," prosecutors wrote.
Jones' attorney, Gerald Handley, issued a statement after the sentencing in which Jones apologized for his conduct to his friends and family and to the university. The defense had sought probation or an alternative sentence that would have allowed Jones to pay restitution and take care of his parental duties.
"Today ends over a year of stress for Mr. Jones," the statement read. "He regrets his conduct and fully accepts responsibility for it."
Brown handed down sentences of probation and paying restitution earlier this month for two defendants who cooperated early with an internal investigation and with federal prosecutors. Brandon Simmons, the school's former athletic director of sales and marketing, and Jason Jeffries, the former assistant director of ticket operations, had been charged with failing to tell authorities about the scheme.
Jones and four others were charged with conspiracy, a more serious crime carrying stiffer potential sentences.
Kassie Liebsch, the former systems analyst at the ticket office, was sentenced Wednesday to 37 months in prison for her part in the conspiracy.
Former associate athletic director Charlette Blubaugh, who was in charge of the ticket office, has admitted she began stealing tickets in 2005, giving them to other employees to sell to third parties in violation of university policy. Blubaugh, of Medford, Okla., will be sentenced next month along with her husband, Thomas Blubaugh, 46, who was a consultant to the ticket office.
Former associate athletic director of development Ben Kirtland, who was in charge of fundraising for the nonprofit group that promotes Jayhawk athletics, is set for sentencing in May.