Felon in KU tickets case asking for shorter prison sentence

The imprisoned former head of Kansas University’s Williams Fund alleges that he’s entitled to a shorter prison sentence because he claims federal prosecutors did not honor terms of his plea agreement in the case.

Rodney Dale Jones, 43, filed a motion on Aug. 23 from prison in El Reno, Okla., asking a judge to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence. U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown in March 2011 sentenced Jones to serve 46 months for his guilty plea to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in a scheme to steal more than $2 million worth of KU football and basketball tickets and distribute them to brokers and others. Four former athletics employees and one consultant were sentenced to prison.

“The government failed to adhere to their commitment to file a (request for lesser sentence) in exchange for the defendant’s guilty plea and for providing substantial assistance in investigating his co-conspirators,” Jones wrote in the motion.

Jones, who was the former leader of fundraising at Kansas Athletics Inc., alleges in the motion that his cooperation with federal authorities led directly to co-defendant Ben Kirtland, who served as associate athletic director for development from 2004 to April 2010, pleading guilty instead of going to trial. Kirtland is serving a 57-month prison sentence.

Jones also claims his assistance led to the indictment of co-defendant Kassie Liebsch, a former systems analyst who took over ticket operations at KU, in the case after she was initially exonerated in KU’s internal investigation. Prior to federal indictments in the case, KU officials in 2010 had the Wichita-based law firm Foulston Siefkin conduct the investigation without subpoena power.

Jones claimed in his new motion that his defense attorney, Gerald Handley, prevented him from cooperating with the internal investigation because prosecutors would later use it against him. But Jones maintained his cooperation later with federal authorities allowed them to broaden their case.

Jim Cross, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom’s office, said Monday that prosecutors would reserve commenting on Jones’ allegations for court proceedings in the case.

Jones is the second defendant to make a request for a lesser sentence after Thomas Ray Blubaugh, who was an athletics department consultant and is also an El Reno inmate, earlier this year asked for U.S. District Judge Monti Belot to reduce his sentence from 46 months to 33 months. Blubaugh has not yet had a hearing on his request.

Unlike Blubaugh, Jones does not ask for a specific reduction in his sentence. However, Jones does argue that federal prosecutors failed to adhere to a commitment to recommend a lighter sentence and that his attorney made no effort to argue Jones was entitled to a reduction.

He also criticizes Handley, his defense attorney, and accuses Handley of failing “to pursue (the) government’s assurance (the) defendant would receive recommendation for probation in exchange for a plea agreement and cooperation in all matters.”

He appears to be relying on recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that put plea bargains under greater constitutional scrutiny, finding that convictions can be overturned if defense lawyers don’t adequately assist clients in deciding whether to accept such offers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, Jones is scheduled to be released in September 2014, and Thomas Blubaugh’s projected release date is October 2014.

In a separate issue, Jones has a hearing scheduled for September in Wichita when U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gale will hear arguments as prosecutors allege $100,000 worth of child support payments Jones made prior to his guilty plea were fraudulent based on the restitution Jones owes Kansas Athletics Inc., its insurance company and the Internal Revenue Service.