Wichita Brandon Simmons and Jason Jeffries will spend the next two years trying to pay back some of the thousands of dollars they took illegally from Kansas Athletics Inc. and, by extension, season-ticket holders, Kansas University fans and Jayhawk supporters overall.
Trying to repair the damage left behind by their actions, and those of five other conspirators in a sweeping tickets scandal, may be even harder.
The two were sentenced Monday morning by a U.S. District Court judge in Wichita to spend two years on probation.
“I made a terrible error in this circumstance,” said Simmons, a former assistant athletic director for sales and marketing, who now works in Lenexa and recently earned a promotion from his boss. “I know words alone will be cheap, but mine will not come without action.”
Jeffries, a former assistant director of ticket operations within the athletics department, apologized for “betraying the trust” of his family, friends, KU donors and fans. He still lives in Lawrence, volunteers at church and stays at home with his three children while his wife heads off to work.
He’s looking for a job.
“I took a wrong turn off my life path,” said Jeffries, during his sentencing hearing. “This was selfish behavior on my part. It was unacceptable, and it will never happen again.”
Monday morning, the two former co-workers became the first of seven defendants to be sentenced after pleading guilty in federal court for their roles in the tickets scheme, one that prosecutors say ran from 2005 to 2010 and cost the department at least $2 million.
Simmons and Jeffries had pleaded guilty in July to misprision of a felony, or essentially failing to notify authorities about the scam they knew to be occurring.
U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown sentenced Simmons and Jeffries to two years of probation, and to pay restitution: Simmons must pay $157,480, and Jeffries must pay $56,000.
Just how much they’ll actually pay remains unclear. Brown ordered the two men to pay at least 5 percent of their gross monthly incomes to the government during the next two years, as directed by their probation officers.
“Don’t underestimate their ability to help you,” Brown told Jeffries.
Officials at Kansas Athletics have said that they will wait until all conspirators have been sentenced before determining how or whether to proceed in seeking money from the court to help compensate for the department’s losses. The IRS also is in line for money, including the $2 million joint forfeiture that the five other conspirators already have agreed to.
Simmons and Jeffries aren’t legally responsible for any of the $2 million pool. During their hearings Monday, both attempted to distance themselves from their five former colleagues and conspirators: Charlette and Tom Blubaugh, Rodney Jones, Ben Kirtland and Kassie Liebsch, all of whom have pleaded guilty to a more serious charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
“My guy was a tickets salesman and loved KU — until they hired Charlette Blubaugh (in 2004),” said Thomas Haney, Jeffries’ attorney, after the hearing. “She was directly responsible for my client’s conduct.”
An internal investigation conducted for KU found that Charlette Blubaugh had provided Jeffries and Simmons tickets worth more than $200,000, which were sold through brokers. Jeffries started with four extra sets of season tickets for men’s basketball, a total that grew to 20 and more each year, according to the report.
Jeffries received 56 sets of season tickets for the 2009 season alone, KU’s investigators determined, and Jeffries simply wiped the seat locations from a dry-erase board used to track which tickets would be available for Williams Fund donors.
Simmons, meanwhile, had told KU’s investigators that he’d received $212,480 for the tickets sold in 2007 through 2010 through a friend of his working as a ticket broker in Norman, Okla.
After the hearing, Simmons’ attorney, Mark Bennett, praised his client for helping provide documents that KU’s own investigators acknowledged had marked “one of the turning points” of the investigation.
“This is the finest young man I’ve ever represented in my 50 years,” Bennett said, outside the courtroom. “He stepped up and began cooperating at the very beginning, and has continued to cooperate. …
“There’s no question in my mind that this young man will go a long way in his life. He’s top drawer.”
As convicted felons, both Simmons and Jeffries cannot ever own a gun or ammunition, and must provide DNA samples to authorities. They do not, however, need to submit to mandatory drug testing, although Brown reminded each of them that they must avoid any misconduct while on probation.
“And by that, I mean ‘any,’ ” Brown said.
The other five conspirators still face sentencing hearings in the coming weeks and months, and Jeffries, for one, doesn’t plan on being back in Brown’s court again.
“I promise you that you will never see me again in this case,” he told the judge.
Outside the courtroom, Jeffries’ attorney noted that his client had done his work: All five other defendants already have pleaded guilty, and that no other potential defendants appear to be in investigators’ sights.
“I think it’s over,” Haney said. “It should be over. It’s (certainly) over as far as my client is concerned."