KU, U.S. Attorney focus on recovering money lost in cash-for-tickets scam

Thursday, May 12, 2011

— Now that former Kansas Athletics Inc. employees are headed to prison for their roles in a $2 million scheme to steal and sell Kansas University football and basketball tickets, the next step for authorities and campus officials dealing with the repercussions is clear.

Work to get the money back.

“These thefts deprived the university and its students of ticket revenues that otherwise would have gone to scholarships, housing and other benefits for the student body of KU,” U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.

Richard Hathaway, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said that specialists in Grissom’s office would turn their attention toward recovering money and other assets from the seven former employees who had pleaded guilty in the scheme and had been sentenced in federal court.

“We’ll put them actively on the trail of assets in the case, so they can make restitution to KU,” Hathaway said, outside U.S. District Court Judge Wesley Brown’s courtroom in Wichita, where the last defendant was sentenced Thursday. “We’re going to try to help them recover some of that.”

Kansas Athletics already has collected nearly $340,000 from defendants and other sources in the case:

• $250,000 from an insurance claim, the maximum allowed by a policy that protected the department against theft.

• $64,500 from Ben Kirtland, the former associate athletics director who reached a civil settlement with the department to pay nearly that much by the end of last year. On Thursday, Judge Brown ordered him responsible for paying up to $1.2 million to KU, plus another $85,000 to the IRS.

• The balance — less than $25,500 — has come in the form of restitution payments and wage garnishments thus far from Jason Jeffries and Brandon Simmons, two former lower-level department employees who pleaded guilty to not alerting authorities to the scheme. They are on probation.

On Wednesday, Brown issued a restraining order requiring that both Kirtland and Kirtland’s ex-wife, Mary Jean, not transfer any property. The couple’s divorce was granted April 15 in Johnson County.

Mary Jean Kirtland’s attorney, Ernest Ballweg, said that as far as he knew, none of the property and assets she had received as part of the divorce settlement had been the result of any of her former husband’s illegal dealings. The couple jointly held assets that included a home in Lenexa, another parcel of real estate in which they owned an interest, plus motor vehicles and other marital property.

“At all times,” Ballweg said, Ben Kirtland and his attorneys had advised that all of the proceeds Kirtland had received through the tickets scheme were satisfied by the civil settlement he had reached with KU.

Ballweg hopes to see the restraining order lifted, so his client and her family can move on. Kirtland’s adult sons were in the courtroom Thursday, as were other family members.

“I think she has suffered significantly — as have the Kirtland children,” Ballweg said.

Likewise, KU officials are ready to move on from the scandal.

“We have already recovered money from some of the conspirators and will continue to use all means available to us to recover the rest,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger, in a joint statement released Thursday. “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.”

Interactive Timeline

KU ticket scandal timeline

View timeline on a new page.