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Originally published May 12, 2011 at 10:40a.m., updated May 12, 2011 at 02:28p.m.

Ex-KU athletics official Ben Kirtland sentenced to 57 months in federal prison for role in ticket scam

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Joint statement

Dear Jayhawks,

Today marks the close of a painful chapter in the history of Kansas Athletics and the University of Kansas as the last of the conspirators in the recent ticket theft case was sentenced.

We have already recovered money from some of the conspirators and will continue to use all means available to us to recover the rest. What we recover will be directed to the benefit of our student-athletes, just as the money from the stolen tickets would have been.

We also started the process of rebuilding your trust immediately upon discovering these thefts. We put into place new internal controls, hired a forensic auditor and greatly increased the transparency of the Select-a-Seat process. Continuing that effort is one of our priorities, as it is for every member of the Kansas Athletics staff.

We want to thank all of you who stood with the university during this difficult period, as well as those of you who made your concerns and disappointment known. Jayhawks are passionate, and we thank you for the passion and loyalty you show on game day and every day.

Rock Chalk,

Bernadette Gray-Little, Chancellor

Sheahon Zenger, Director of Athletics

— The man who led fundraising for Kansas Athletics Inc. for more than five years is headed to prison for his role in a ticket-stealing scheme that drained at least $2 million from the department and cost some donors opportunities for the seats they otherwise deserved at Allen Fieldhouse.

Ben Kirtland, who served as associate athletic director for development from 2004 to April 2010, was sentenced Thursday morning to spend 57 months in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, tax obstruction and transportation of stolen property across state lines.

He is the last of five conspirators convicted of the charges to be sentenced in federal court, and he received a term equal to that of Charlette Blubaugh — the associate athletic director for ticket operations who had overseen the computer system that department officials had counted on to prevent such thefts.

All conspirators sentenced

Kirtland, who reported directly to then-Athletic Director Lew Perkins, earlier had told the court that he had a duty to “set a standard” that such sales of tickets would not be permitted.

On Thursday, he was ordered to spend time in prison and pay nearly $1.3 million in restitution: more than $85,000 to the IRS, and the rest to Kansas Athletics.

“I’m sorry for my actions of greed and stupidity and recklessness,” Kirtland told U.S. District Court Judge Wesley Brown. “I will spend the rest of my life to atone for my actions.”

Kirtland’s attorney asked the judge that his client be incarcerated near Hartford, Conn., where his 90-year-old mother lives.

Brown imposed the sentence in the same courtroom where he previously had sentenced Kirtland’s fellow conspirators:

• Blubaugh, who is in transit to her prison destination to begin her 57-month term.

• Rodney Jones, former assistant athletic director for the Williams Fund, now in a prison camp in Oklahoma for a 46-month term.

• Kassie Liebsch, a former systems analyst who took over ticket operations following Blubaugh’s resignation and then resigned upon her own indictment by grand jury in November. She is in a prison camp in Illinois, serving a 37-month term.

• Thomas Blubaugh, Charlette Blubaugh’s husband and a former paid consultant to the department, who is not yet in custody to begin his 46-month term.

Restitution

Kirtland, Jones, Liebsch and Charlette Blubaugh all share responsibility for paying nearly $1.2 million in restitution to Kansas Athletics, Brown has ruled. Thus far, the department has received nearly $340,000 through restitution and an insurance claim related to the case.

Kirtland learned about his financial responsibilities less than a year after he’d already entered into a civil agreement with the department to repay $63,000. Kirtland had voluntarily sought to enter an agreement, and even paid the department $64,500 by the end of last year to keep up his end of that deal.

The tickets scheme ran from 2005 through 2009, and an investigation conducted for the department and Kansas University determined that it had involved the theft, resale and unlawful distribution of more than 17,000 tickets for men’s basketball and at least 2,000 tickets for football.

“This was not a momentary lapse of judgment,” the judge told Kirtland on Thursday.

The investigation conducted for KU determined that the scheme had cost the department from $1 million to $3 million, and its lead investigator has speculated that the total cost likely had been higher. Tickets that otherwise would have been available for donors — with locations to be chosen through the department’s Select-a-Seat program, based upon points earned through the Williams Fund — instead had been taken by employees and often sold through brokers for the conspirators’ personal gain.

Federal authorities have maintained that it was a $2 million scheme, involving brokers and Internet sales in transactions that crossed state lines.

Two other former Kansas Athletics employees also have been convicted in the scheme: Jason Jeffries and Brandon Simmons, two lower-level employees granted probation after pleading guilty to misprision, a felony that involved not notifying authorities that a crime had been taking place.

‘Painful chapter’ over

Kirtland’s sentencing was the last for criminal defendants in the case, bringing closure to proceedings that have harmed the financial conditions and the reputation of Kansas Athletics and KU itself, said Richard Hathaway, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the cases.

“Now they can get this behind them and get on with the business they’re in,” Hathaway said, outside the courtroom.

Following Kirtland’s sentencing, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger issued a joint statement regarding the “close of a painful chapter” for the university and for Kansas Athletics.

“We want to thank all of you who stood with the university during this difficult period, as well as those of you who made your concerns and disappointment known,” they said in the note, which was emailed to donors. “Jayhawks are passionate, and we thank you for the passion and loyalty you show on game day and every day.”

Comments

bigpimpin 7 years, 11 months ago

Kirtland gets 5 years in prison, meanwhile the guy who drives drunk and kills a girl gets 6 months? Welcome to AmeriKKKa.

DocBean 7 years, 11 months ago

bigidiot - Kirtland was knowingly breaking a federal law for years, while a drunk driver may have made 1 mistake while he was not able to think with a sober mind. The outcome is worse for the drunk driver's victim, and horrible without doubt; but the intent is why Kirtland get's more time.

I'm sure you'd rather them both be stoned to death in a public courtyard, but it's not going to happen. You're free to move to another country.

nanimwe 7 years, 11 months ago

I agree with the sentiment of biggie; these sentences with their extended periods of costly incarceration seem excessive compared to those of repeat, violent offenders who need to be "off the streets".

ahpersecoachingexperience 7 years, 11 months ago

• "Thomas Blubaugh, Charlette Blubaugh’s wife..." I knew Char had a little some'thn-some'thn going on down there.

Scott Smetana 7 years, 11 months ago

Punishment must fit the crime. I don't know the entire detail of the scheme (and really don't care), but it seems public embarrassment, permanent felony record, no credit, and one year in jail is appropriate. 5 years seems excessive.

TheStonesSuck 7 years, 11 months ago

Yes, that's what we need. People who aren't familiar with the details and don't care to be, expressing their views on how it should be handled. Well done! Thank you, sir.

DocBean 7 years, 11 months ago

"I don't know the entire detail of the scheme..." "Punishment must fit the crime."

You said it yourself, you don't know what the crime was, but then you go on to say the punishment was excessive? Seriously?!

Dyrk Dugan 7 years, 11 months ago

Lew stole more money from KU athletics than all these people did combined.

BigAl 7 years, 11 months ago

And you base that on what? Please tell us all exactly what Lew stole? I think maybe he had the use of some exercise equipment but that was returned. After that, I am really not sure what he stole?

hawkmaster 7 years, 11 months ago

As a CPA and KU grad, it pains me to say that KU sort of got what they deserve. The greed, air of invincibility and just flat ignorance went all the way from Lew to Chancellor Hemenway and the entire athletic dept. I am shocked KU did not have any of these employees "bonded", especially Kirtland that ran the Dept. Every half-witted administrator knows that you always bond key employees for possible financial fraud or defalcation - - and apparently KU did not do that since they only have $340,000 in reimbursement for a $2 m or more loss. Many university professors donate their time to university budgeting and other admin. matters, why weren't any of KU's accounting/auditing profs overseeing or assisting with the athletic admin. and setting up proper accounting controls, reviewing ticket sale budgets, and making sure employees were bonded. As a University, with all this academia available, there is absolutely no excuse for what happened at KU with the ticket scandal. I guess this is a true example of that old adage of why professors teach, because they miss the boat on real world experience. Now I hear KU spent about $60,000 on an accountant to shore up the athletic dept., what a joke KU has become. That $60,000 won't get you an accountant with the proper experience (and won't get you a qualified CPA)...yet KU will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on administrators in the athletic dept., an athletic dept. PR spokesperson making over $100,000 a year, hiring consultants nobody knows are on the payroll, highly paid athletic director, etc. Yet they put a measly $60,000 towards an accountant to supposedly fix this all, this is why KU deserves what it gets, KU still doesn't have a clue.

Kevin Randell 7 years, 11 months ago

"Breaking rocks in the....hot sun. I fought the law and the law won. I fought the law and the law won" :)

kwahyajjj 7 years, 11 months ago

You are right! We should create more infrastructure and bigger government to make sure that doesn't happen.

crimsonwithblue22 7 years, 11 months ago

IrishDaddy,

Get a grip and do some fact checking before trying to put a political slant on this scandal. Lew was and is a staunch liberal democrat. I'll let you critique his conduct, actions and "values" while athletic director here at the University of Kansas. Ask employees of the athletic department about his tactics and his compassion for his fellow man. Heck, ask the TV5 gal too, you remember the one that tried interviewing him at the golf course only to have her station threatened by someone within the athletic department.

If you need help with the definition of "hypocrite", try Googling it.

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