Disgraced former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker pleaded guilty to a felony in Maricopa County Superior Court today and implicated a lobbyist as the brains behind a scheme to have employees reimbursed by the bowl for their political campaign contributions.
Junker is facing a prison term of up to 2.5 years for his guilty plea to one count of solicitation to commit fraudulent schemes and artifices.
A Fiesta Bowl employee, Peggy Eyanson, director of business operations, and former employee Jay Fields, former senior vice president for marketing, each pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of making a prohibited campaign contribution and they also agreed to cooperate in an investigation that continues. Eyanson and Fields were fined $2,500 each and placed on one year probation.
Junker, who paid $62,500 today in restitution for the illegal campaign contributions and questionable expenses, is scheduled for sentencing on April 26. He will also plead guilty in U.S. District Court to crimes related to the investigation.
Junker’s plea agreement contained a detailed summary of the decade-long contribution scheme, but it referred to the lobbyist who allegedly came up with the idea as “lobbyist C.”
Immediately after the plea hearing, lobbyist Gary Husk, a former consultant with the bowl who has also been the target of the probe, and his lawyer, Rick, Romley, sent out a statement through a public relations firm.
They said Junker’s plea follows a pattern self-serving behavior.
“The buck never stops with Junker,” the statement read. “As the CEO of a community-based, non-profit organization, John created a culture of deceit that allowed him to misuse million of dollars. Over and over, Junker lied to the public, he lied to his staff members, his Chairmen, the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors, the NCAA, the media, investigators and to Mr. Husk.”
The plea agreement says that Junker and the bowl’s board of directors came to the conclusion after an unsuccessful vote for a new stadium that the bowl would lose its significance. They decided that they needed a coordinated lobbying effort at Arizona lawmakers and the Congressional delegation to get a new stadium built.
That’s when they hired “lobbyist C.”
Lawmakers continuously came to the lobbyist with their hands out and he would tell Junker, who would seek contributions from the board and employees. But that method proved to be inadequate.
“Lobbyist C then came up with a solution,” the plea agreement reads.
The lobbyist knew of a discretionary bonus system in Junker’s control and they eventually began using that as reimbursement for political contributions by employees.
The summary also alleges that the lobbyist spearheaded a cover up by using former state Attorney General Grant Woods to investigate allegations of the scheme that was revealed in a 2009 Arizona Republic article.
The lobbyist steered the bogus investigation by assisting Woods and screening witnesses who would be interviewed.
The bowl began a separate internal investigation in December 2010 and found a scheme dating back to 2000 to reimburse employees $46,539 for political contributions. A 276-page report was published in March.
The report also found a conspiracy to conceal the scheme from state officials and the board of directors. The investigation also uncovered lavish spending by Junker, who spent $33,000 for a birthday party in Pebble Beach, Calif., $13,000 for a wedding for one of his aides and $1,200 at a Phoenix strip club.
On Nov. 16, a federal grand jury returned a 9-count indictment against Natalie Wisneski, 47, the bowl’s former chief operating officer, on charges of filing false income tax returns for the bowl game.
The indictment alleged that she collected political donations from employees and paid them back with checks from Fiesta Bowl accounts.
Wisneski quit her job in March just as Junker was fired.