Feds seek prison in Kansas scandal

Updated: March 29, 2011, 3:13 PM ET
Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. -- Former assistant athletics director Rodney Jones used his take from a $2 million ticket scalping conspiracy at the University of Kansas to give himself a luxurious lifestyle that would otherwise have been beyond his reach, prosecutors said Tuesday.

In a court filing seeking a 46-month prison sentence, prosecutors argued that Jones maintained an apartment on the Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. and frittered money away on an "extensive rolling party scene" that lasted for five years.

In collusion with others, Jones decimated the athletic department and deprived the university and its students of revenues that should have gone toward student scholarships, housing, and other benefits, prosecutors wrote.

"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 said.

Jones "and his conspirators damaged the goodwill and reputation of the University of Kansas, that will remain a blemish on this fine institution for years to come," they said.

Prosecutors accuse Jones of receiving more than $1.19 million from the theft of the athletic tickets. They say he gave 20 to 25 percent of the proceeds to Kassie Liebsch, a former systems analyst in the ticket office. The government contends her share of the "ill-gotten gain" was nearly $300,000, while her defense attorney contends the amount was closer to $100,000.

Jones, 42, of Lawrence faces sentencing on Thursday. Liebsch, 28, of Lawrence will be sentenced Wednesday.

Both pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States through wire fraud, tax obstruction and interstate transportation of stolen property. They agreed as part of their plea deals to be held jointly and individually liable for a $2 million forfeiture.

Their defense attorneys have asked the judge in separate filings to consider probationary sentences. The government wants to imprison them both.

Prosecutors have separately asked U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown to sentence Liebsch to 37 months in prison, contending she lied to university investigators about her involvement and kept her job at the university "under false pretenses" until the indictment against her was filed last year.

"While granting this Defendant probation because of her age might be facially appealing it would be to simply ignore the fact that she continued to conceal her involvement in the crime and has only come forward in fits and starts to accept responsibility," the government argued in court documents filed Tuesday.

Liebsch's attorney, David Bell, said his client is "embarrassed and remorseful" and noted she has no prior criminal history. He argued that a non-custodial sentence would allow her to begin repaying her debts to the university and the government.

He urged the judge to consider Liebsch's youth, noting she started working at the university as a freshman in college and was hired after graduation for the systems analyst job at the ticket office. He said she was specifically ordered by her boss, co-defendant Charlette Blubaugh, to never say no whenever Jones and former associate athletic director Ben Kirtland asked for tickets.

The defense attorney representing Jones, Gerald Handley, asked the judge to consider an alternative sentence such as house arrest that would enable Jones to pay restitution and fulfill his parental duties. Handley cited his client's cooperation with investigators and repeatedly pointed to the probationary sentences and restitution ordered for the first two university officials who had pleaded guilty to failing to tell authorities about the scheme.

"Rodney Jones was presented with tickets from his boss, asked to sell them and divide up the funds," Handley wrote. "He found someone to do this and divided up the money with others. That does not diminish his responsibility for his participation but was his role as stated."

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 employees pocketed the money. All pleaded guilty. The five charged with conspiracy -- a more serious crime carrying stiffer potential sentences -- remain to be sentenced.

The government's recommendations seeking prison terms for Jones and Liebsch are at the low end of each defendant's advisory sentencing guidelines. Jones' guideline was calculated at between 46 and 57 months in prison, while Liebsch's sentencing guideline ranged from 37 to 46 months.

The judge doesn't have to follow those advisory guidelines.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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