Created on Thursday, 20 March 2014 Written by JACQUES BILLEAUD, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — A former Fiesta Bowl chief executive was sentenced Thursday to three years of probation on a state conviction for his acknowledged role in an illegal campaign contribution scheme.
Former Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker gets into his car outside the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. courthouse after being sentenced in Phoenix on in this March 13, 2014 file photo. The sentencing Thursday March 20, 2014 of 58-year-old John Junker in Maricopa County Superior Court will mark the end of criminal cases that arose from the contribution scandal that jeopardized the bowl's NCAA license and led to the ouster of the longtime bowl leader. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Schennum, File)
The sentencing in county court in metro Phoenix marked the second punishment 58-year-old John Junker has received in the last week for the contribution scandal that jeopardized the bowl's NCAA license and led to the ouster of the longtime bowl leader. A week ago, he was sentenced in federal court to eight months in prison on a conspiracy conviction arising from the scandal.
In both cases, Junker has admitted being involved in a scheme in which bowl employees made illegal campaign contributions to politicians and were reimbursed by the nonprofit bowl. Employees were reimbursed at least $46,000 for campaign contributions.
"I don't find additional utility to incarcerate Mr. Junker," said Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Welty. "I believe the federal sentence sufficiently punishes him."
Junker, who was also fined $36,000 on Thursday, apologized to the bowl's employees and volunteers for his actions. "This period in my life has been a nightmare, deservingly," Junker told the judge before he was sentenced.
The scandal jeopardized the bowl's NCAA license and its status as one of four bowls in the national college football championship rotation. The bowl retained its Bowl Championship Series status at the time. The NCAA placed it on probation for a year, and the BCS fined it $1 million.
Four other bowl employees were convicted of a state misdemeanor of making a prohibited campaign contribution, and the bowl's former chief operating officer pleaded guilty to a federal felony conspiracy charge. All five were sentenced to probation.
The scandal also exposed the lavish spending and perks that the Fiesta Bowl heaped on lawmakers and employees — though no charges were filed involving those perks.
Junker received cars, four high-end country club memberships, a $33,000 birthday party in Pebble Beach, Calif., $1,200 for a trip to a strip club, among other benefits from the Fiesta Bowl.
Nearly 30 lawmakers received free football tickets, and some got all-expense-paid trips from the bowl, but prosecutors declined to bring any charges against them.
In his plea agreement in both federal and state court, Junker said he knew it was illegal to use other people's names to mask the political contributions and that he made the decision to have the bowl reimburse contributors.
Prosecutor Matthew Conti said Junker had cooperated with investigators and was contrite about his actions.
Junker's attorney contends the leader of the campaign finance scheme was a lobbyist, not Junker, and that the bowl CEO wasn't deeply involved in the day-to-day operation of the scheme.
Junker was fired as leader of the bowl in March 2011. He now works for St. Vincent de Paul's.