WICHITA — Four of five people accused of stealing more than $3 million in University of Kansas athletic tickets faced a federal judge for the first time today.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ken Gale arraigned Charlette Blubaugh, 44; her husband and former department consultant, Thomas Ray Blubaugh, 46; former Williams Educational Fund director Rodney Jones, 42, and former head of fundraising Ben Kirtland, 54, on a charge of conspiring to commit wire fraud.
A similar hearing for Kassie Liebsch, 28, was continued until next month by agreement between her lawyer and prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lanny Welch told the judge. Liebsch resigned her position as the university's director of ticket sales just before a grand jury indicted her and the others last month.
All four pleaded not guilty, the only plea Gale said he could accept at today's hearing. Gale released all four on their own recognizance and had them sign a $25,000 bond, which they will pay if they fail to show up for subsequent court hearings or do not follow conditions the judge set out today.
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Most of the conditions are standard in federal criminal cases and include:
- Not breaking any laws
- Submitting DNA if ordered by the court.
- Notifying probation officers of any change of address.
- Not tampering with evidence or influencing jurors.
All four had to surrender their passports.
The case now goes to U.S. Senior District Judge Wesley E. Brown, who will schedule further proceedings.
Prosecutors say the five earned up to $5 million from the ticket scheme, documented by the university in an internal report released in May. They are charged with stealing athletic tickets and scalping them for cash to ticket brokers and other third parties outside the university.
Former KU athletic director Lew Perkins, who hired or promoted all of the indicted parties, left after weathering controversies involving the ticket scandal, his multimillion-dollar pay package, a state ethics investigation and questions about his university- sponsored travel. He is not charged in the indictment.
Two other former employees, Jason Jeffries and Brandon Simmons, already have pleaded guilty to related charges and are cooperating with authorities.