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Ex-Fiesta Bowl CEO’s sentencing postponed

This April 26, 2007 photo shows Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker during a news conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Fiesta Bowl has fired its longtime CEO John Junker after a scathing internal report found "an apparent scheme" to reimburse employees for political contributions. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Tom Tingle)

Former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker will have a few more weeks of freedom, as a judge postponed his Thursday sentencing.

Junker pleaded guilty in February and March in state and federal courts to crimes in connection with a scheme in which the Fiesta Bowl illegally contributed to political campaigns. He is facing a prison sentence of up to 2.5 years.

Defense attorney Stephen Dichter wrote in a motion April 20 that the continuance was necessary because Junker’s “cooperation with the state in its ongoing investigation is continuing. It also appears the continuance will ensure Junker spends his time in a federal prison, rather than in the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Plea agreements in each jurisdiction state that Junker will serve his time in federal prison and the sentences will run concurrently, but the federal plea agreement states specifically that he will be sentenced in federal court first “so that prison time, if imposed by this Court, will be served in a federal institution.”

Thursday’s sentencing was scheduled to be in Maricopa County Superior Court and was postponed until July 27. The federal sentencing is set for May 21.

Dichter did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Junker pleaded guilty in Maricopa County Superior Court Feb. 21 to solicitation to commit fraudulent schemes and artifices and the plea agreement implicated lobbyist Gary Husk as the mastermind behind the scheme in which the Fiesta Bowl would reimburse employees for contributions they made to state lawmakers and congressmen.

Husk said in a written statement after Junker pleaded guilty that the ex-CEO “created a culture of deceit” and lied to everyone around him, including Husk, a former consultant for the Fiesta Bowl. The Arizona Attorney General raided Husk’s office in January, but his attorney, Rick Romley, has said Husk is cooperating with investigators.

In addition to the state charges, Junker also pleaded guilty March 12 in U.S. District Court to conspiracy. He admitted to conspiring with former Fiesta Bowl COO Natalie Wisneski to making federal campaign contributions in the name of another, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission and defrauding the Internal Revenue Service.

Both of Junker’s plea agreements require him to cooperate with Fiesta Bowl investigations and prosecutions. Wisneski pleaded guilty to the same charges as Junker and she must also cooperate. Her agreement calls for a prison sentence of up to a year.

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 on Feb. 21.

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