Kansas University leaders made a fiscally sound decision last week not to file a civil lawsuit against those convicted in a $2 million athletic ticket scheme.
But that shouldn’t be the end of the case. University leaders now must have a system of checks and balances in place to make sure they aren’t deceived again.
KU officials and their attorneys say the costs of pursuing civil litigation against the conspirators outweigh the benefits to KU. “The time and the expense that it would take for us to pursue that case, it would far outstrip any funds that we would recover. Truly we are focused on the future and what we have to accomplish to be successful going forward,” said Tim Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs.
This decision makes sense. Why maintain the focus on this grim chapter, especially when the financial gain is likely to be minimal?
So far, KU has collected $430,000 — $250,000 from the university’s theft insurance policy and $180,000 from the former employees — in connection with the judgment in the criminal cases. Even if Kansas Athletics pursues no civil prosecutions, this case will be kept alive by federal efforts such as the lawsuit filed this week against former associate athletic director Ben Kirtland and his wife. The lawsuit claims that the couple’s transfer of property as part of a divorce settlement was intended to hide assets and defraud the government.
Kirtland and three other former Kansas Athletics Inc. employees — Charlette Blubaugh, Rodney Jones and Kassie Liebsch — and one consultant, Tom Blubaugh, are serving time in federal prison after pleading guilty in the cash-for-tickets scam that took place from 2005 to 2010.
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger, who was hired in January, have said whatever additional funds KU recovers would be directed to the benefit of student-athletes just as the stolen ticket money would have been.
Now, KU must say what safeguards are in place to prevent another conspiracy. What are the reporting and auditing procedures? What checks and balances are in place? Who is responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the department and its inner workings?
Another issue must also be addressed. Among the many concerns caused by this episode was the possibility that employees were afraid to speak up about questionable actions by co-workers. KU personnel must have avenues to safely share information if they suspect something is amiss.
There is a very expensive and important lesson to be learned. This case won’t be over until the public is confident that such financial abuse won’t occur again.