KU probe shows ticket misappropriation

LAWRENCE, Kan. – The University of Kansas revealed on Wednesday that five former staffers and a consultant combined to scalp tickets valued at more than $1 million to games at Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium.

“It’s not easy to learn that people you trusted let you down,” athletic director Lew Perkins said. “We thought we had just about every safeguard in place. Nobody picked up on it. I certainly didn’t. It caught me totally off-guard.

“There was a curveball thrown and I didn’t see it. I missed it. It got by me.”

That oversight might not have been the worst news for Perkins.

Details of the scam that transpired between 2005 and 2010 – which included the sale of more than 17,000 men’s basketball tickets and more than 2,000 football tickets – were uncovered during an internal review by a Wichita law firm. Kansas hired the group to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in its athletics department and the school’s athletic fundraising arm, the Williams Educational Fund.

But earlier Wednesday, Yahoo! Sports reported that former KU ticket manager Rodney Jones and Roger Morningstar – father of basketball player Brady Morningstar – made more than $800,000 in a ticket scalping operation that was orchestrated by college basketball power brokers David and Dana Pump from 2002-2003. That alleged scalping involved NCAA tournament and Big 12 tournament tickets.

Those allegations were not detailed in the KU report.

David Freeman, a Lawrence real estate developer who said he participated in the 2002-03 scheme, claimed the Pumps were conducting similar ticket scalping operations at colleges across the country.

The FBI and IRS are investigating those claims.

Freeman, who had two drug convictions in 1989 and is scheduled to begin a jail sentence on an unrelated bribery charge next month, divulged the details of the ticket scalping in multiple interviews with federal agents within the last year, a source said. Both Freeman and his lawyer have declined comment, citing the ongoing federal probe.

Freeman’s statements prompted Jones’ resignation in April and the school’s internal investigation into the ticket office and fundraising department.

Perkins did not address the Yahoo! Sports report on Wednesday.

The California-based Pump brothers run elite summer traveling teams throughout the country and also operate a firm called ChampSearch that identifies potential candidates for college coaching vacancies.

The Pumps have also long been associated with scalping NCAA tournament tickets, a practice they’ve never denied.

Perkins, who attends the Pumps’ annual retreat along with Kansas coach Bill Self, didn’t answer when asked if he planned to continue his association with a pair of men alleged to have profited from scalping tickets to Jayhawks’ basketball games. Instead, University General Counsel Jim Pottorff responded.

“I think that’s something where the AD would have to act very carefully [in the future],” Pottorff said.

Although it’s unclear whether Freeman, Jones and Morningstar continued to scalp NCAA tournament tickets beyond 2003, the results of Kansas’ internal investigation revealed a scheme that enabled staffers to benefit from the sale of Allen Fieldhouse tickets over the past five years.

The internal report showed that the group sold or used at least 17,609 basketball tickets (worth approximately $887,000) and 2,181 football tickets ($122,000) during that span. The number may be even higher. Because investigators did not have subpoena power, the amounts could climb as high as $3 million once the federal probe is complete, according to Jack Focht, an attorney for Foulston Siefkin, the firm that conducted the review.

Focht also said it’s possible that the scam could have started much earlier since accurate records were only kept back to 2005.

Investigators were unable to determine what portion of the $1 million in tickets were sold directly to ticket brokers. Distribution of the tickets was disguised by employees as complimentary or inventory tickets, or other areas with limited accountability.

Kansas’ employees were able to get away with the scheme despite the fact that multiple audits of the athletic department had been conducted during the time the improprieties took place.

Much of the blame Wednesday seemed to be directed toward Perkins, as alumni felt he should’ve monitored the ticket office more closely and detected the wrongdoing. Focht said Perkins shouldn’t be blamed.

“You had some of the best audit firms in the country auditing this department – and they fooled them,” he said. “The athletic director is not better than an auditor. There’s no way an athletic director, unless they’re involved with it, is going to know about it.”

According to the report, the people involved in the scam got their hands on extra tickets in multiple ways.

Jones, the one-time ticket manager who was later promoted to the director of the Williams Fund, obtained what were supposed to be complimentary tickets and passed them on to brokers. Associate athletic director Ben Kirtland, Jones’ supervisor, took part in the scheme as well.

The report said Kirtland helped create “an atmosphere similar to a worker in a candy store” when it came to working with the tickets.

Former ticket manager Charlette Blubaugh was also mentioned multiple times in the report. Blubaugh allegedly arranged to have ticket records destroyed and then blamed it on stadium construction. The investigation also discovered that Blubaugh had a “fake account for the sale of season tickets that were mailed to her former addresses.”

Two of Blubaugh’s assistants, Brandon Simmons and Jason Jeffries, “sold over $200,000 worth of tickets through brokers with Blubaugh’s knowledge and consent,” the report said.

Jones, Kirtland, Blubaugh, Jeffries and Simmons are no longer employed by the university. Blubaugh’s husband, Tom, who was being paid to act as a “consultant” to the KU ticket office, was also named in the report.

The school said it would try to recover the money it lost as a result of the scam.

Kansas said it has forwarded its findings to federal investigators, who were already looking into the matter. Civil charges could be forthcoming.

But the looming questions over the Pumps’ alleged involvement in the scalping and the nature of their relationships with coaches, players and athletic directors at Kansas and elsewhere remain.

Perhaps the ongoing federal investigation will provide more answers.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, May 27, 2010