Originally published January 27, 2011 at 10:59a.m., updated January 27, 2011 at 02:03p.m.
Wichita Another former ticket manager for Kansas Athletics Inc. has admitted in federal court that she took part in a scheme that converted stolen KU basketball and football tickets into tax-free cash through sales by ticket brokers and others.
Charlette Blubaugh pleaded guilty Thursday morning to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, a crime that carries a potential prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. She now is responsible for paying up to $2 million to the government, to cover her share of ill-gotten gains.
She admitted her guilt and entered into a plea agreement approved during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown, in federal court in Wichita. Sentencing is set for 10 a.m. April 14.
“Charlotte’s happy to get this matter behind her, and she accepts responsibility,” said John Rapp, one of her defense attorneys, after the 47-minute hearing.
Blubaugh is the latest in a string of former colleagues at Kansas Athletics to plead guilty in connection with the scam, which prosecutors say ran from 2005 to 2010. Already having pleaded guilty to conspiracy are:
• Kassie Liebsch, a former systems analyst who took over the top tickets job after Blubaugh left the department.
• Rodney Jones, who had been an assistant athletics director in charge of the Williams Fund.
Still awaiting trial is Ben Kirtland, who is accused of conspiracy. His trial is scheduled to begin March 8 in Wichita.
In February 2010, as federal agents had been investigating the ticket scam, Blubaugh resigned to take a job in the athletics director’s office at the University of Central Oklahoma, telling Kansas Athletics officials that she’d wanted to be closer to family. At the request of Kansas Athletics, she agreed to continue working with the department to help compile information about the ticket scam for investigators.
On Thursday in court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway documented that Blubaugh actually had been an active participant in the scam. He said KU had hired Blubaugh away from her job in the ticket office at the University of Oklahoma, to become “kind of a consultant” to Kansas Athletics, where she would work her way up to become an assistant athletics director for ticket operations.
During that time, Hathaway said:
• Blubaugh became familiar with Liebsch, Jones and Kirtland and, in 2005, “a conspiracy commenced,” with Blubaugh providing tickets to “various employees” for illegal resale.
• Blubaugh received tickets from the department’s printer, and set aside “a large number” of season tickets — “originally at the request of Ben Kirtland” — for distribution through conspirators.
• Such diversion of tickets escalated to the point that tickets would be moved through her husband, Tom Blubaugh, who worked as a consultant to Kansas Athletics from August 2007 to January 2010, with documents authorizing his $115,000 of total compensation being approved by Kirtland.
• Received proceeds from tickets channeled through Liebsch, Jones and Kirtland. Tickets “moved” through her husband were sold through brokers in Oklahoma, and only the Blubaughs split those proceeds, Hathaway said.
• Failed to report any of the proceeds to the IRS nor to the NCAA through Kansas Athletics, therefore avoiding payment of taxes.
In all, Hathaway said, the conspirators reaped proceeds of more than $2 million from the ticket scam.
Now Charlette Blubaugh and others who have pleaded guilty are responsible for giving up the gains.
“You understand that you’re responsible for a monetary judgment of $2 million?” Judge Brown said.
“Yes, sir,” she responded.
“You understand?” he repeated.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
As part of her deal with prosecutors, she has agreed to provide information about all of her assets since 2005 — part of an examination into her financial situation that could include a lie-detector test.
She also must assist authorities in their investigation and prosecution of the case and “all related conduct.”
Her husband is scheduled to plead guilty to conspiracy at 10 a.m. Friday, also before Judge Brown.
Two other former colleagues, Jason Jeffries and Brandon Simmons, previously had pleaded guilty to failing to disclose the scam to authorities. They and others who already have pleaded guilty also await sentencing.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Charlette Blubaugh pleaded guilty to bank fraud.