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Judge rules against former wife of ex-KU official

Published on -9/28/2012, 7:26 AM

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Associated Press

WICHITA -- The former wife of a University of Kansas official caught in a ticket scalping scandal cannot keep money and property transferred to her in the couple's divorce settlement, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The decision comes in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. attorney's office against Ben Kirtland, a former Kansas associate athletic director, and his ex-wife, Mary Jean Kirtland. Ben Kirtland was among several former KU officials convicted in a scheme that stole more than $2 million in athletics tickets, and prosecutors are now pursuing assets from defendants in the case.

"Money was taken from the victims by fraud," U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said in a written statement after the ruling. "It is only right that it should be returned to the victims."

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled the government was entitled to void the transfers involving several accounts, stock, vehicles as well as a money judgment. The government has said the transferred property and money at issue were worth more than $400,000.

Mary Jean Kirtland, who now lives in Cary, N.C., had argued that the government wanted to enforce a criminal restitution judgment against an innocent spouse. Her ex-husband is serving a nearly 5-year prison sentence in Massachusetts and has been ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution.

Her attorney, Ernest C. Ballweg, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. But in court filings, her attorney argued there was no intent to defraud. He noted the transfers were disclosed in the divorce settlement, and said there was no attempt by either of the Kirtlands to remove or conceal assets.

The judge said whether there was an actual intent to defraud is usually a question for a jury to decide, not a judge in a summary judgment. Marten noted in his ruling that many factors suggested "the existence of an intent to defraud, perhaps even strongly so," but he declined to rule on that issue.

Instead, the judge said he based his decision on that fact that the property was transferred to Mary Jean Kirtland without her giving anything in return to her husband -- and that the transfers occurred in the midst of a criminal proceeding against him.

"Mary Jean Kirtland, who was well aware of her husband's precarious legal and financial situation, paid nothing to Benjamin for the transfers of the real and personal property adopted in the property settlement. She knew that Benjamin faced a forfeiture order in excess of $1 million, and that he faced likely incarceration," the judge wrote.

She filed for divorce Jan. 25, 2011. A month later, Ben Kirtland filed a petition to plead guilty.

Ben Kirtland was one of seven Kansas athletics officials convicted for the unlawful sale of Jayhawk football and basketball season tickets by key athletics department officials to ticket brokers and others in which the employees pocketed the money. At the time, Kirtland was the associate athletic director in charge of development.

He and four others were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. through wire fraud, tax obstruction and interstate transportation of stolen property. Two officials who cooperated early with investigators were charged in separate cases with not reporting the crime to authorities.

Ben Kirtland was sentenced in May to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $1.29 million, including $1.19 million to Kansas Athletics Inc. and $85,090 to the Internal Revenue Service.

He and his co-defendants also were ordered to pay more than $2 million as forfeiture.

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