Friday, May 6, 2011
The highest-ranking onetime Kansas Athletics Inc. employee convicted in a tickets scam that cost the department at least $2 million has repaid $63,000 to the department.
Whether he’ll owe more will be, as they say, up to the judge.
Ben Kirtland, former associate athletics director for development, entered into a private civil settlement with the department in October, less than a month before his indictment by a federal grand jury in a conspiracy to steal, sell and otherwise illegally distribute thousands of football and basketball tickets for personal gain.
Kirtland, who awaits sentencing Thursday in Wichita, paid Kansas Athletics the $63,000 — an amount reached through negotiations initiated by Kirtland — by the end of last year. The payment came at least eight weeks before he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Since then his fellow co-conspirators have been sentenced to anywhere from 37 months to 57 months in prison, and ordered to be responsible for more than $2 million in restitution and through forfeiture.
U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown will determine how much, if any, money Kirtland must pay to the department or the IRS, the two victims identified in the case.
“The restitution is a matter for the judge to consider,” said Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wichita. “He will have to decide whether that private agreement does or does not figure into what he’s doing.”
In the settlement agreement, Kansas Athletics has agreed to advise the court that Kirtland already has paid $63,000 — a fact to be provided “for such use as the court deems appropriate.”
The information has been forwarded to U.S. Probation Office officials, who compiled a presentence report for use by Brown in determining Kirtland’s sentence.
For the record, Kansas Athletics doesn’t intend to seek any additional money from Kirtland, officials said, although the department would pursue collecting more if the judge so ordered.
“Nothing precludes us from going after any additional amounts the judge orders,” said Judy Pottorff, the department’s corporate counsel.
No other defendants in the case have entered into such settlements with the department, although at least one has tried. Rodney Jones, former assistant athletics director for the Williams Fund, had proposed such an arrangement but was rebuffed by Kansas Athletics, according to a motion filed by Jones’ attorney.
Jones, who is in custody at a federal prison camp in Oklahoma, is required to pay at least 10 percent of any money deposited in his inmate trust fund toward restitution: nearly $1.2 million to Kansas Athletics, and another $114,000 to the IRS. Upon his release from prison, Jones then must contribute at least 5 percent of his gross monthly income toward restitution during three years of supervised release.
Pottorff declined to discuss Jones’ settlement attempt, other than to acknowledge that it came sometime after Jones had been indicted.
Kirtland’s settlement — approved by both Jerry Bailey, a KU professor and chairman of the department’s board, and KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little — required Kirtland to pay half the money by Oct. 20 and then the rest by the end of January.
Less than a month later, on Feb. 24, Kirtland had pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy. His written plea included Kirtland’s own estimate that he’d sold $120,000 of tickets illegally, keeping a share of the proceeds and concealing the transactions from his bosses and the IRS.
Such information had not been available to the department when officials entered into the settlement.
“He came to us,” Pottorff said. “We didn’t know where the court was going to be. We didn’t know if he was going to be indicted. At that point, when somebody offered us money and who indicated that there was some involvement in the theft of tickets, we decided to accept it.”
And the agreement does not prevent the department from receiving additional compensation if so ordered by the court, said Jim Marchiony, an associate athletics director.
“It would have been irresponsible not to take it,” Marchiony said.
Kirtland’s attorney, Robin Fowler, declined to discuss the agreement or its implications, pending Thursday’s sentencing hearing.