Wichita A former Kansas University athletic consultant convicted in a $2 million ticket scalping conspiracy deserves a more lenient sentence based on conflicting provisions in his plea deal, his new attorney argued Monday.
Thomas Blubaugh was sentenced in 2011 to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States through wire fraud, tax obstruction and interstate transportation of stolen property. A federal prosecutor Monday denied any conflicted existed in the deal.
The legal sparring came in an evidentiary hearing called to determine whether Blubaugh’s former attorney, Stephen Robison, did a poor job defending him.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot wanted Robison to testify after Blubaugh claimed ineffective counsel in court filings and during a January hearing on the issue. Belot did not immediately rule after hearing Robison’s testimony.
At the crux of the dispute is seemingly contradictory wording in the plea agreement. One portion indicates prosecutors agreed to file a motion seeking a lower sentence for “substantial assistance” already given, while a separate section in the same document states that such cooperation was at the government’s discretion and such cooperation had not yet been given.
Blubaugh’s new defense attorney, Jim Pratt, argued that Robison failed to raise the issue of the ambiguity in the plea agreement. He contended the plea deal’s inconsistency alone is enough for Belot to order the government to file a motion indicating Blubaugh provided substantial assistance, a legal move that in effect gives the court greater discretion to shorten a sentence.
“What Robison did, or didn’t do, is irrelevant to that argument,” Belot said.
The judge told Pratt that he faced an “uphill battle” in proving Robison provided ineffective counsel, based on the testimony he heard.
Typically when the court rules an attorney did a poor job in advising his client, the defendant is allowed to withdraw any guilty plea and a trial is set. But in this case, Blubaugh told the judge he doesn’t want to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial. He just wants a shorter sentence.
Robison told the judge that he advised his client at the time he entered the plea deal that he believed the agreement was that he had not yet provided enough cooperation to earn a motion for substantial assistance from prosecutors.
Robison testified it was his impression that Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway and case agents were “underwhelmed” with the information his client initially provided investigators but that he had expected further meetings with prosecutors.
Robison also acknowledged under questioning by Hathaway that Blubaugh told agents he only sold $200,000 worth of stolen tickets to an Oklahoma broker, when in fact the actual figure was more than $800,000. Robison said he had advised Blubaugh to cooperate fully with the government and not to underestimate his role in the conspiracy.
“Frankly, Tom didn’t do that. He underestimated,” Robison said. “But I am not the one who pays the price.”