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Ex-Kansas officials get probation

WICHITA, Kan. -- Two disgraced former University of Kansas officials will spend the next two years on probation for failing to tell authorities about a $2 million ticket scalping scheme that embarrassed the school, angered donors and led colleges across the nation to examine their own procedures.

U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown ordered Brandon Simmons, the school's former athletic director of sales and marketing, to also pay $157,480 in restitution. He ordered Jason Jeffries, the former assistant director of ticket operations, to pay $56,000 in restitution.

Seven people have been snared in the government's investigation into the unlawful sale by key athletics department officials of football and basketball season tickets to ticket brokers and others in which the officials pocketed the money. Simmons and Jeffries cooperated early with an internal investigation and federal prosecutors, and both men apologized to the University of Kansas and others in their courtroom statements.

"I understand I will spend the rest of my life repairing the damage done to my name and reputation," said Simmons, 31, of Lenexa. He struggled to keep from crying as he told the judge that he had always strived to live his life to high standards and talked about the values his parents instilled in him.

He told the court he made "a terrible error in judgment."

At his separate sentencing, Jeffries nervously read a statement in which he said he was disappointed in himself. Jeffries, 36, of Lawrence, talked about the volunteer work he has been doing at his church and with retirees since he was charged, and said they have helped him more than he helped them.

"I know I still have work to do before people trust me again," Jeffries said.

The sentences did not come as a surprise given that the judge announced them tentatively last week to give the parties time to prepare arguments before making his final decision at Monday's hearings.

"Nobody wants you to succeed as much as I do," Brown separately told each man in back-to-back hearings in federal court in Wichita.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway made no courtroom arguments on the proposed sentences. Jeffries' defense attorney, Thomas Haney, argued in court that a probationary sentence was both "reasonable and just." Simmons' attorney, Mark Bennett, told reporters outside the courtroom that his client had stepped up and cooperated with authorities.

Both Simmons and Jeffries pleaded guilty to misprison of felony -- essentially, that they knew about the ticket scam and hid it from authorities. They each could have received up to three years in prison.

The five defendants still to be sentenced were separately indicted with conspiracy to commit wire fraud -- a far more serious crime that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, although the advisory sentencing guidelines are typically less. All pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors contend former associate athletic director Charlette Blubaugh, who was in charge of the ticket office, began stealing tickets in 2005 and gave them to other key athletic department employees to sell through third parties. Blubaugh, of Medford, Okla., has pleaded guilty to conspiracy along with her husband, Thomas Blubaugh, who was a consultant to the ticket office. Their sentencings are set for April.

Others who have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy are former assistant athletic director Rodney Jones of Lawrence, and Kassie Liebsch of Lawrence, who was a systems analyst working in the ticket office. Their sentencings are set for later this month. Associate athletic director of development Ben Kirtland is set for sentencing in May.

Revelations of the ticket scam 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. The best seats were supposed to go to the people who made the biggest donations.

Haney said outside the courtroom that he believes the government's investigation into the ticket scam is over, although he deferred to prosecutors on that point. Prosecutors have declined to comment on the status of the investigation.

"It is over as far as my client is concerned -- he doesn't have any knowledge of anybody else," Haney said.