Ex-KU official gets 57 months in ticket scheme

The highest-ranking official caught in a ticket scalping scandal at the University of Kansas was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in prison. Federal prosecutors said they now have wrapped up their investigation into the "parasites and thieves" who stole more than $2 million in tickets in a case that embarrassed the school.

Ben Kirtland, the former associate athletic director in charge of development, will spend 57 months in federal prison, the sentence jointly recommended by the prosecution and defense. Kirtland, 54, of Lenexa, was in charge of fundraising for Kansas Athletics Inc., the nonprofit group that promotes Jayhawks athletics.

"We believe we have pursued all credible leads. We believe in this particular instance, KU needs to move on," U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Thursday. "There's no evidence we've found of any other systematic problems at the university and we believe the university can put this behind them."

Grissom said he hoped the university can now focus on providing an education for students.

"This wasn't the University of Kansas, it was five individuals — parasites and thieves who took advantage of their positions," he said.

In all, seven people were snared in the investigation into the unlawful sale of football and basketball season tickets by key athletics department officials to ticket brokers and others in which the employees pocketed the money.

Kirtland pleaded guilty in February to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States through wire fraud, tax obstruction and interstate transportation of stolen property. In a brief courtroom statement, Kirtland said he was sorry for all the "greed, stupidity and recklessness" his actions caused, adding that he has caused much pain, anguish and suffering for his family.

"As always it is the families and friends who trust and admire us who suffer the most," U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown told Kirtland during the hearing.

The judge also ordered restitution of more than $1.29 million, a figure that includes $1.2 million to be paid to Kansas Athletics and $85,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. Brown also entered a $2 million forfeiture judgment.

Five defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 37 months to 57 months in prison. Of the total restitution ordered, Kirtland will be liable to repay $1.19 million of it along with four co-defendants.

Two other officials who cooperated with investigators were charged only with failing to tell authorities about the crimes and both received probationary sentences.

The university issued a statement calling Kirtland's sentencing "the close of a painful chapter" and tried to reassure donors the university had started the process of rebuilding their trust immediately upon discovering the thefts. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and athletics director Sheahon Zenger said in the statement that the university has new internal controls, a new forensic auditor and increased transparency of its so-called Select-a-Seat process.