Former consultant pleads guilty

Updated: January 31, 2011, 11:53 AM ET
Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. -- A former consultant to the University of Kansas was aware that his wife, who ran the school's ticket office, was setting aside large amounts of season tickets and split the proceeds of their illegal sale with her, prosecutors said Friday.

Thomas Blubaugh, 46, of Medford, Okla., pleaded guilty Friday to a single count of conspiracy involving wire fraud, transportation of stolen goods and tax evasion for his role in a $2 million ticket scalping scandal at the school that ensnared seven people. He also agreed to help repay what was stolen.

His wife, Charlette, who was associate athletics director in charge of the ticket office, pleaded guilty to conspiracy a day earlier.

The Blubaughs were both set for sentencing on April 14. They face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, although they are likely to get far less time under federal sentencing guidelines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway told a federal judge at a change-of-plea hearing that the Blubaughs sold the illicit tickets in ways to hide the fact they were coming from university employees. The tickets were marketed through intermediaries and brokers and advertised for sale on the Internet.

"He was obtaining cash from an intermediary so money from direct ticket sales couldn't be traced to him," Hathaway told the court.

He also did not report the income from their sale on the couple's tax returns, Hathaway said.

His defense attorney declined to comment following the hearing.

Thomas Blubaugh was on the ticket office's payroll from August 2007 to January 2010 as a consultant, and he was paid a total of $115,000.

An internal report prepared by a Wichita law firm the university hired after the scandal broke indicated that Lew Perkins, the school's athletics director at the time, didn't know Thomas Blubaugh was even on the payroll, and the report recommended the school look into what, if anything, Blubaugh was doing in that role.

Thomas Blubaugh's consulting fees were authorized by Ben Kirtland, the associate athletics director of development and head of fundraising for Kansas Athletics Inc., a nonprofit that promotes Kansas athletics.

Kirtland, who is charged with conspiracy, is the only defendant still scheduled for trial on March 8.

Although the plea agreement reached with prosecutors gave few details about Thomas Blubaugh's involvement, the university's internal investigation report recounted a conversation during which Charlette Blubaugh allegedly told two employees that records for the 2008-2009 basketball season could not be reconciled and should be moved to the football stadium.

She said she, Kirtland and Tom Blubaugh would destroy them on a weekend and when the records could not be found and blame it on construction at the stadium, according to the university report. Those records are missing.

Former assistant athletics director Rodney Jones, who was in charge of the school's fundraising arm, and former systems analyst Kassie Liebsch, pleaded guilty to conspiracy this month. Brandon Simmons, the former assistant athletics director for sales, and Jason Jeffries, the former assistant director of ticket operations, pleaded guilty in July to knowing about the ticket scam and failing to report it.

The four will be sentenced in March.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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