Topeka David Freeman provided prosecutors and federal investigators with information that’s led to two resignations at Kansas Athletics Inc. and spurred an internal investigation into the department’s Williams Educational Fund and athletics ticket office, Freeman’s attorney said Thursday.
But such cooperation with the FBI, IRS and U.S. Attorney’s office was not enough to keep the Lawrence developer out of prison on what attorney Carl Cornwell considers an unrelated case, into a bribery conviction on a Junction City land deal.
Freeman was sentenced Thursday to spend 18 months in prison — instead of the probation his attorney had both sought and expected, given his client’s willingness to answer questions and provide information on the KU case.
“I got no credit for that,” Cornwell said, outside the courtroom. “This whole thing is bull----. I got no credit — none — for stopping business as usual at KU.
“Money talked down there. You could get tickets, if you paid in cash.”
Jim Marchiony, an associate athletics director at KU, declined to comment on Freeman’s sentencing, his attorney’s assertions or anything else regarding the ongoing federal probe and separate internal investigation into operations of the ticket office at the Williams Fund, which is the donor organization that controls who gets access to the best seats for basketball and football through a points system based on donations.
The fund, which has more than 4,200 members, last year generated $15 million in revenue for Kansas Athletics.
“We can’t comment on anything related to this case,” Marchiony said.
Cornwell said that Freeman, a Lawrence developer, started talking to federal prosecutors last year regarding a pay-for-preference deal that had Freeman giving a Junction City official money in exchange for deals that gave Freeman’s company control of real estate deals worth $12 million.
As part of Freeman’s cooperation — he pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit bank fraud — Freeman agreed to provide prosecutors with information regarding that case. During those discussions, prosecutors apparently learned of Freeman’s involvement in ticket issues at KU, issues that Cornwell said involved more people than Freeman and stretched well beyond the financial implications of Freeman’s payments to a Junction City commissioner.
“That was $19,000,” Cornwell said, of the total payments Freeman admitted to paying to secure municipal construction contracts in Junction City. “There’s hundreds of thousands of dollars involved (with KU tickets) that was never reported as income.”
Cornwell acknowledged that Freeman had secured a proffer agreement with prosecutors, to protect him from prosecution beyond the conspiracy he’d admitted in the bribery case. The agreement required his client to be “completely, totally honest,” Cornwell said, and not only in the Junction City case but “anything else” he knew about.
Cornwell said it was his hope that the tickets investigation would lead to others being indicted — possibly for tax evasion, theft, money laundering or something else — although he took Thursday’s lack of probation in federal court as a setback.
“All the other people involved, nothing will happen to them,” Cornwell said. “I told (Freeman): ‘Justice will prevail. The system will work.’ It didn’t work. …
“There was an understanding: If I cooperated in the tickets deal, something good’s going to happen. My client cooperated. It didn’t happen.”
Approaching the bench
During the sentencing hearing, Cornwell requested a bench conference with U.S. District Judge Richard Rogers and prosecutors, a meeting that lasted longer than 10 minutes. Cornwell said he used the time to emphasize to the judge that Freeman’s information already had spurred needed change at Kansas Athletics Inc.: the resignations of two officials with the Williams Educational Fund, and the ongoing internal review.
Rodney Jones, an assistant athletics director for the fund who had been on administrative leave since early last month, resigned last week. Jones’ boss, Ben Kirtland, resigned April 5 as associate athletics director for fundraising.
But Rogers focused on the Junction City case in sentencing Freeman, saying that the court generally sides with recommendations from prosecutors. Those prosecutors had recommended that Freeman spend between 18 months and 24 months in prison.
“I hope that you can put this behind you and that you will never again be in any trouble with any court,” Rogers said told Freeman about the “event that made many people lose confidence in city government and government, in general.”
Rogers previously had sentenced Mick Wunder, the Junction City commissioner convicted of accepting payments from Freeman, to 24 months in federal prison. He reported to a minimum security prison in Duluth, Minn.
Freeman remains free until authorities decide where he should spend his 18-month incarceration. Cornwell said that he likely would be sent to a minimum security prison in Leavenworth, Duluth or Yankton, S.D.
Because of his plea agreement, he can’t appeal.
“We’re screwed,” Cornwell said, noting that his client would serve his 18 months and then move on.
“Rodney Jones resigns, and everything’s going on,” Cornwell said. “Who sets that in motion? My client. And I don’t get credit for that? Damn.”