Former KU Athletics employee Brandon Simmons pleads guilty in ticket scandal

Originally published July 15, 2010 at 12:06 p.m., updated July 15, 2010 at 2:41 p.m.

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Brandon W. Simmons

— A former assistant athletics director became the second Kansas Athletics Inc. employee to plead guilty in connection with a scandal involving more than $1 million worth of tickets the university says were stolen by insiders.

Brandon Simmons, 30, pleaded guilty to not notifying authorities of the scam in a timely manner, a felony formally known as misprision. The plea came Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Wichita, inside the same courtroom where former colleague Jason Jeffries had entered an identical plea a day earlier.

“Are you telling the court that you’re guilty?” U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown asked Simmons.

“Yes, your honor,” Simmons said.

Like Jeffries, Simmons signed a plea agreement that requires him to cooperate with prosecutors as they build a case against others said to be part of the ticket scheme.

Both had resigned from the department in April, nearly a month after KU had launched its own investigation into problems with the KU Ticket Office and the Williams Educational Fund, the department’s donor organization.

Debra Barnett, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in court that criminal activity occurred from 2005 through 2010, and involved tickets that Simmons himself had received fraudulently and had delivered to a ticket broker in Oklahoma for resale to others.

Simmons, who had been the department’s assistant athletics director for sales and marketing, knew such activity was illegal, Barnett said, but had not informed authorities of the ticket scheme.

He also had not reported his or others’ receipt of the tickets nor income from their sale to the proper authorities, she said, including leaders at Kansas Athletics.

“They were receiving them ‘off the books,’ so to speak,” Barnett told Brown, describing how the schemers manipulated accounts to conceal their identities.

Mark Bennett Jr., Simmons’ attorney, said after the hearing that his client would continue to cooperate with investigators.

Simmons already has provided information to the FBI and IRS, and to an attorney who was leading the internal investigation on behalf of Kansas University, Bennett said.

KU’s investigation is complete, but the federal probe continues.

“He’s cooperated from the very get go on this thing,” Bennett said, as Simmons was being escorted down a hallway by a federal probation officer. “He’s been interviewed twice (by the attorney working for KU). He’s been interviewed by federal agents. He’s provided every piece of information he has, or has been asked about.”

KU’s report, released May 26, concluded that both Simmons and Jeffries, who had been assistant director of ticket operations, were among Kansas Athletics employees who fraudulently obtained regular-season tickets for KU football and basketball games. The report documented the theft of more than 17,000 basketball tickets and more than 2,000 football tickets from 2005 to 2010.

Also implicated in KU’s report were three other department employees: Charlette Blubaugh, former associate athletics director of ticket operations; Rodney Jones, former assistant athletics director for the Williams Fund; and Ben Kirtland, former associate athletics director of development. Tom Blubaugh, a paid consultant for the department, also was cited in KU’s report.

The document concluded that both Simmons and Jeffries received tickets and even cash payments from Charlette Blubaugh, as a “thank you for a job well done,” among other things.

Bennett declined to discuss specifics of his client’s disclosures to authorities.

“You’ve read the KU report,” he said. “It’s pretty accurate.”

John Rapp, a Wichita attorney for Charlette Blubaugh, who attended Thursday’s hearing as an observer, disagrees.

“We’re still investigating,” he said, outside the fourth floor courtroom. “We believe there were some problems in the internal reports, and we look forward to clearing those up.”

Rapp left court just after Brown accepted Simmons’ guilty plea. Brown then set sentencing for 11 a.m. Sept. 29, which would be 30 minutes after a sentencing hearing for Jeffries.

Both men are free on personal recognizance bonds, which means they did not have to put up any money as they await sentencing. Each faces up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and a year of supervised release.

Brown also reminded Simmons — as he did to Jeffries on Wednesday — that he could be ordered to pay restitution.

The KU report documented that Simmons and Jeffries had improperly sold more than $200,000 worth of tickets through brokers.