Grand jury kept Perkins from Big 12 meetings

KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins speaks during a press conference after a report detailing improprieties in its ticket office. The Journal-World has learned that Perkins was absent from some of last week's Big 12 meetings because he was testifying in Topeka before a federal grand jury about the scandal.

The Journal-World has learned that Kansas University Athletic Director Lew Perkins missed a portion of last week’s Big 12 meetings because he was testifying in Topeka before a federal grand jury regarding the university’s ticket scandal.

Perkins was not the target of the inquiry, sources who requested to remain anonymous said; rather, he was a subpoenaed witness representing the athletic department.

Grand juries, used most often in federal cases, convene to decide whether a prosecutor has enough evidence to proceed with a case. Those testifying before a grand jury are not accompanied by legal representation. Typically, the only people in the room are members of the grand jury, the prosecutor and the witness. The prosecutor asks most, if not all, of the questions and the grand jury decides whether to return an indictment. They are closed proceedings.

Four months after federal law officers began looking into allegations of ticket fraud in the Williams Fund and the university’s ticket office, the university hired a Wichita law firm to investigate the matter. Foulston Siefkin LLP found in its report that five employees and a consultant — none of whom now work for the athletic department — sold tickets for personal gain, costing the university anywhere from $1 million to $3 million.

Jack Focht, one of the attorneys conducting the investigation, said he would not be surprised if the federal investigation uncovered greater losses.

“The federal government has the power of the grand jury subpoena, the FBI, the IRS, everybody else,” Focht said. “I had four, five attorneys and an audit team to look at records.”

Perkins was the center of attention at Big 12 meetings last Tuesday when he said of conference realignment talks, “This is serious, serious, serious stuff.”

Given the KU athletic director’s experience in the conference realignment arena, dating back to his days at University of Connecticut when the Big East lost three members, and given his calling attention to the gravity of the potential conference shakeup, his absence Wednesday from the meetings seemed odd. The explanation that he had a prior commitment seemed stranger still, given that he has made it clear he thinks protecting KU’s conference interests is his most pressing concern at the moment.

Perkins, when not testifying before the grand jury, kept in touch via phone with other members of the athletic department at the Big 12 meetings.

Conference realignment issues and the federal investigation into the ticket scam are not the only issues weighing on Perkins.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has ordered an investigation of the school’s A.D. to see whether he violated any rules of ethics when exercise equipment from a vendor of KU Athletics was placed in his home. A former employee, William Dent, has said in published reports that the company that furnished the equipment was rewarded with better seats to KU men’s basketball games. Perkins, who went to Lawrence police to report that the former employee was attempting to blackmail him, reportedly paid $5,000 in April, more than three years after it was installed, for renting the equipment. Kansas ethics laws prohibit state employees from accepting many types of gifts.

If employed through June 30, 2011, Perkins reportedly will receive a $600,000 retention bonus, after taxes. His next retention bonus after that, also for $600,000, comes in 2013.