Ex-official pleads guilty in Kansas ticket scam
WICHITA, Kan. – Federal prosecutors portrayed an elaborate scheme to steal more than $2 million in athletics tickets at the University of Kansas as a former systems analyst pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy for her role in a scandal that has embarrassed the school and ensnared seven former employees.
Kassie Liebsch admitted in court that the conspiracy began in 2005 and continued into 2010. The single count of conspiracy to which she pled guilty was for illegal acts such as wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen goods and obstruction in the collection of income taxes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hathaway told the court that Liebsch’s cut of the fraud amounted to more than $100,000. Some of that money was used to buy a 2008 Toyota Camry, which she agreed to forfeit as part of her plea deal. She also will be held liable along with her co-defendants for $2 million in forfeiture.
She remains free on a $25,000 unsecured bond.
The 28-year-old Lawrence woman was visibly nervous throughout the court proceedings. At one point, U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown admonished her, “Answer me audibly – and relax.” She quickly and repeatedly answered “yes, sir” to the judge’s questions – at times before the judge even finished asking them.
Liebsch’s sentencing has been set for March 30. She faces up to 20 years in prison, although she is likely to get far less time under federal sentencing guidelines.
Defense attorney David Bell told reporters after the hearing that when Liebsch was between the ages of 22-27, she made some decisions which she now deeply regrets.
“By pleading guilty here in this courtroom, she has accepted full responsibility for her decisions and actions,” Bell said. “She looks forward to moving on to a new chapter in her life.”
Prosecutors agreed in their plea deal to request a reduced sentence if Liebsch assisted in the investigation and prosecution of the case.
Brandon Simmons, the school’s former assistant athletic director for sales, and Jason Jeffries, the former assistant director of ticket operations, pleaded guilty in July to knowing about the ticket scam and failing to report it to authorities. They will be sentenced March 7.
Liebsch and four others were indicted on a single conspiracy count in November. Their trial is set for February, although that date is likely to be postponed.
Former Kansas assistant athletic director Rodney Jones is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing on Friday. Jones was in charge of the Williams Educational Fund, the school’s fund raising arm that uses the sale of tickets to contribute to scholastic and athletic scholarships for students.
Still facing trial are: former associate athletic director Charlette Blubaugh; her husband, Thomas, a consultant for the ticket office; and former associate athletic director Ben Kirtland.
Liebsch’s detailed plea agreement provides a glimpse at the scope of the conspiracy charged and the part each co-defendant is accused of playing in it.
Liebsch started as a freshman at the university in the fall of 2001, and was hired the next year as a student worker in the ticket office where she stuffed mail and took ticket orders for events. At the time Jones was assistant ticket director. When Charlette Blubaugh was hired in 2004 as associate athletic director in charge of the ticket office, Jones transferred to the Williams Educational Fund as its development officer.
When Liebsch graduated in 2005, Blugaugh offered her a job as systems analyst with the ticket office with a salary of $30,000 per year.
The plea deal contends that initially Liebsch would seek approval from Blubaugh to fill ticket requests from Jones and Kirkland until Blubaugh told her she had separated a group of tickets for the Williams Educational Fund and, as a result, Liebsch did not need to ask permission.
Blubaugh told Liebsch “never tell Rodney and Ben ‘no’ regarding a request for tickets,” according to the court document.
Liebsch admitted in her plea deal that beginning in 2005 Jones started providing her with cash and showed her how to convert the cash to money orders in amounts to avoid currency reporting requirements. The document also recounted a phone conversation with Charlette Blubaugh, Kirkland and others during which Kirtland purportedly admitted he had received money from Jones and during which Charlette Blubaugh discussed her intention to manipulate the ticket computer system prior to responding to law enforcement’s request for information on ticket assignments.
In her plea deal, Liebsch acknowledged she and others diverted tickets to market them for their own personal enrichment, paid kickbacks to others for marketing the unlawfully obtained tickets and transported in interstate commerce the stolen tickets.
She also admitted in the document that defendants tried to prevent the tracing of the stolen tickets back to them by using third parties not connected to the ticket office to sell them, by having ticket brokers write checks to cash and converting them at the brokers’ banks and by purchasing money orders in amounts less than required for currency reporting requirement. They also did not report the proceeds to income reports required by the NCAA rules, according to the plea deal.