Originally published July 7, 2010 at 01:37p.m., updated July 8, 2010 at 07:45a.m.
Two former Kansas Athletics Inc. employees are facing federal charges that they knew about a ticket-theft scheme without telling authorities in a timely manner.
Both intend to plead guilty, and at least one intends to continue assisting federal authorities as they pursue cases spawned by a scandal that a Kansas University investigation already has found to have involved nearly 20,000 regular-season basketball and football tickets — up to $3 million in tickets found to have been stolen from Kansas Athletics and sold for personal gain.
Brandon W. Simmons, a former assistant athletics director, and Jason Jeffries, a former assistant director of ticket operations, each is charged with misprision of a felony, which is itself a felony punishable by up to up to three years in prison.
Tom Haney, a Topeka attorney representing Jeffries, said that his client would plead guilty as part of an agreement with prosecutors that could help them continue to build cases against others.
“Mr. Jeffries has always cooperated with the investigation from day one, and will continue to cooperate with the government,” Haney said. “We’ve decided it’s in his best interest to enter a plea of guilty and continue to cooperate with the investigation. …
“It provides finality and he can get on with his life. He’s never done anything but cooperate and will continue to cooperate.”
Both Simmons and Jeffries are among six people identified by an internal investigation conducted for Kansas University pertaining to the ticket-fraud scheme.
The internal investigation found that nearly 20,000 tickets for regular-season basketball and football games had been stolen by employees and sold for personal gain. The thefts occurred from 2005 to 2010, and were said to have cost the department anywhere from $1 million to $3 million.
Haney declined to identify who else might be the subject of his client’s cooperation, although he said that Jeffries was “being lumped in with the real wrongdoers. Some of the folks mentioned are way above my client’s pay scale.”
KU’s own report implicated four others along with Simmons and Jeffries:
• Charlette Blubaugh, former associate director of ticket operations.
• Rodney Jones, former assistant athletics director for the Williams Educational Fund.
• Ben Kirtland, former associate athletics director for development.
• Tom Blubaugh, Charlette’s husband and a former consultant for ticket operations.
Federal authorities, including the FBI and IRS, have been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate the case, and their work led KU officials to order their own investigation. KU Athletics Director Lew Perkins, who recently announced plans to retire in September 2011, has said that he first learned of the federal investigation in December.
Simmons joined the KU ticket office in 2005 and was promoted to assistant athletics director for sales and marketing in December. Jeffries started in the ticket office in 2003 and became assistant director of ticket operations in 2004.
Both resigned in April, a little over a month after KU ordered its own investigation and nearly a month before its results were released.
Campus to courtroom
Now, Simmons and Jeffries become the first two former employees to face charges in connection with the case, which is moving from campus to the courtroom.
“This is a federal case at this point,” said Mark Bennett, Simmons’ attorney.
Simmons and Jeffries are scheduled to hear the charge against them read by U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys in Wichita at 10:30 a.m. July 14 for Jeffries and July 15 for Simmons. That’s when they’ll be required to formally plead not guilty.
Jeffries is scheduled to stand before U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown at 11 a.m. July 14 for a change of plea hearing. Simmons will do the same thing at 11 a.m. July 15. That’s when each will be expected to plead guilty.
“There has been expressed a desire to plead guilty,” said Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who noted that defendants are not required to do so.
Neither Simmons nor Jeffries has signed a plea agreement. Jeffries will be expected to sign his following the second hearing, Haney said.
One of the investigators involved with KU’s own probe has said that he expects federal cases to reach beyond regular-season tickets, and to involve more money lost. That’s because the KU investigation covered only regular-season tickets that could be documented.
Tickets for post-season basketball and football games were not addressed in KU’s internal report.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the day of Jason Jeffries' hearings. He will apear July 14.