Ex-Kansas official enters guilty plea

WICHITA, Kan. -- A former University of Kansas athletics official pleaded guilty Friday for his role a $2 million ticket-scalping scheme, shedding light on how authorities uncovered a scam that brought down seven former university employees.

Rodney Jones, the school's former assistant athletic director, admitted his part in a conspiracy that began in 2005. The scheme unraveled last year, after the Internal Revenue Service noticed an inordinate amount of season tickets being sold by one broker whose checks for about $975,000 were cashed by Jones' friend at the broker's bank.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway revealed at Friday's hearing that investigators did a "trash pull" at the friend's house and discovered all but one of an undisclosed number of ticket stubs were in consecutive order. The unidentified friend told agents who confronted him that he believed the basketball and football tickets had been lawfully obtained by Jones.

Hathaway also told the judge that Jones converted cash from the ticket sales into money orders in amounts of between $400 and $500 to avoid currency reporting requirements. The government contends Jones got the tickets from three other athletics department employees.

Jones, 42, of Lawrence, was in charge of the Williams Educational Fund, the university's fundraising arm that uses the sale of tickets to contribute to scholastic and athletic scholarships for students. Hathaway said Jones has cooperated since being confronted by investigators.

His defense attorney, Gerald Handley, gave reporters a written statement before Friday's court hearing that said Jones accepted responsibility for his role.

"He deeply regrets his involvement in this episode. He apologizes to the university for his conduct," the statement read. "He has agreed to and is cooperating with the authorities to resolve the issues that are referred to in the indictment."

Jones pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy for illegal acts such as wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen goods and obstruction in the collection of income taxes. He could face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced March 31, but will likely receive less under federal sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a lighter sentence if Jones provides substantial assistance to investigators. U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown is not bound by that recommendation.

As part of the plea deal, Jones agreed not to contest a $2 million judgment against him, an amount that is to be paid jointly by all the defendants.

Brandon Simmons, the school's former assistant athletic 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 to authorities. They will be sentenced March 7.

Jones and four other former employees were indicted on a single conspiracy count in November. Former systems analyst Kassie Liebsch pleaded guilty to conspiracy this week.

The remaining three defendants -- former associate athletic director Charlette Blubaugh; her husband, Thomas, a consultant for the ticket office; and former associate athletic director Ben Kirtland -- are set for trial in February, though that date is likely to be postponed.

Jones split the proceeds from the ticket sales with Kirtland and Liebsch, Hathaway said.

Investigators from the IRS and FBI discovered that university policy prohibits the resale of the two complimentary tickets employees receive, which are reported as taxable income for its employees. Agents also found Jones did not report the outside income as required by NCAA rules.