Wichita The former leader of fundraising for Kansas University athletics was sentenced Thursday morning to nearly four years in prison for taking part in a $2 million ticket scheme that illegally delivered thousands of tickets for KU basketball and football games to brokers and others.
Rodney Jones, who had led the ticket office for Kansas Athletics Inc. before becoming assistant athletics director for the Williams Fund, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison. He had pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Jones also must pay all or part of nearly $1.2 million in restitution to Kansas Athletics, and alone is responsible for paying nearly $114,000 to the Internal Revenue Service to cover unpaid federal taxes, U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown ruled.
In court, Jones said he wanted to “deeply apologize” to federal authorities, Kansas Athletics, all Jayhawk fans, as well as his family, friends — and, especially, to his son, Parker.
“I have made a terrible mistake that I will continue to pay for for the rest of my life,” Jones said.
Brown sentenced Jones in U.S. District Court in Wichita, where a day earlier the judge had sentenced one of Jones’ former colleagues — Kassie Liebsch — to 37 months in prison. It’s also where five other former colleagues already have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme, which prosecutors say lasted for five years before all resigned in the wake of a scandal that a KU investigation said cost the department more than $3 million.
Jones and his fellow conspirators took tickets — more than 17,000 for men’s basketball, and more than 2,000 for football, according to the KU investigation — that otherwise would have been available for members of the Williams Fund and others. The tickets then were sold through brokers and provided to others for the conspirators’ personal gain.
The KU report concluded that Jones was a “selfish person who mistreated employees who were not in his favor,” and was someone who provided free tickets to friends, softball teammates and others. Among the beneficiaries was a landlord who had agreed to accept reduced rent payments in exchange for expected priority points in the Williams Fund.
“I have let many individuals down,” Jones told Brown.
‘I accept full responsibility’
Like Liebsch, Jones had faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But federal sentencing guidelines suggested that Jones should get between 46 and 57 months in prison.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, while Jones and his attorney had urged a sentence of probation, community service, house arrest or placement in a halfway house.
In court documents, Jones maintained that he should receive consideration for probation because of his cooperation with prosecutors and investigators, including special agents from the FBI and IRS, and with the Kansas Board of Ethics. He also wanted to begin paying restitution sooner and fulfill his parental duties.
Brown acknowledged the contentions but sided with prosecutors, who said Jones’ “extensive and protracted” criminal conduct had brought him “vast wealth” that had allowed him to maintain an apartment on the Plaza In Kansas City, Mo., “frittering away his money on an extensive rolling party scene that persevered for five years.” The restitution total is based largely on Jones’ financial disclosures, which investigators had used polygraph testing to assess.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Jones told Brown, and later indicated that he fully intends to pay back the money owed to Kansas Athletics and the IRS.
Brown ruled that at least 10 percent of any money deposited in Jones’ prison trust fund must go toward restitution. Then, after Jones is released from prison, at least 5 percent of his gross monthly income must go toward restitution during his three years of supervised release.
Among justifications for the sentence: “The defendant engaged in a conspiracy to defraud, and it went on for an extended period of time and caused extensive damage,” Brown said.
Jones and four former colleagues — Liebsch, Ben Kirtland and Charlette and Thomas Blubaugh — also share responsibility for a $2 million monetary judgment, which allows the federal government to pursue their finances and other assets that may have been amassed as a result of the criminal conspiracy. All have pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and the Blubaughs will be sentenced April 14, while Kirtland’s sentencing is set May 12.
Two other former co-workers — Jason Jeffries and Brandon Simmons — earlier had pleaded guilty to failing to report the crime to authorities. Brown placed them on probation.
Richard Hathaway, an assistant U.S. attorney who is prosecuting the cases, explained after Thursday’s hearing that restitution is ordered to help make victims “whole,” while forfeiture allows the government to prevent criminals from keeping any ill-gotten gains.
Brown ordered that Kansas Athletics Inc. is due a total of $1,197,084 in restitution, a total due jointly from all the conspirators in the wire fraud: Jones and Liebsch, who have been sentenced; and the Blubaughs and Kirtland, who still await sentencing. And Jones alone owes $113,843 in back taxes to the IRS, while Liebsch owes $79,864.
Kansas Athletics also may seek reimbursement through any assets that may be forfeited — Liebsch already has voluntarily given up a 2008 Toyota Camry that she’d purchased with cash proceeds from the scam, for example — but KU would not be able to receive a combination of restitution and forfeited assets that totaled more than $2 million.
But victims and the government rarely get all the money owed to them, Hathaway said.
“As a practical matter, by the time the case is closed, the money has been spent on attorneys’ fees and it has been frittered away,” Hathaway said. “But we always remain hopeful.”
KU officials aren’t saying yet whether they plan to seek reimbursement through forfeiture proceedings, preferring to wait until all of the conspirators have been sentenced.
“From when we first learned of these crimes, the KU community has been seeking justice,” said Jack Martin, a spokesman for KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “Through these sentences, that justice is in the process of being delivered. We would like to thank the federal investigators and prosecutors for their diligent work in this case.”