Improper contributions to politicians head list of Fiesta Bowl misdeeds

2011-06-14T00:00:00Z 2011-06-28T22:25:07Z Improper contributions to politicians head list of Fiesta Bowl misdeedsBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX - If there's a single obvious lesson for Robert Shelton about how to run the Fiesta Bowl, it might be how not to spend money.

John Junker, who was president and chief executive officer until being ousted earlier this year, ran up charges on his credit card three years ago at the Bourbon Street strip club in Phoenix, entertaining a Fiesta Bowl employee and a Maricopa County sheriff's lieutenant who owns a consulting firm that provides security for the bowl.

Junker told investigators earlier this year that the more than $1,200 that was billed to the Fiesta Bowl was not just for food and drink but "in all likelihood" included paying some women to dance for them. But Junker said there was a business purpose for the visit to the club.

"We are in the business where big strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments," he told investigators. "It was important for us to visit, and we certainly conducted business."

That spending, though, is dwarfed by the $33,000 the Fiesta Bowl spent for a 50th birthday party for Junker in Pebble Beach, Calif.

But the problems of the organization where Shelton will become executive director involve so much more.

Potentially the biggest - and the ones with possible criminal implications - are that the Fiesta Bowl got employees to make donations to the campaigns of politicians, which were reimbursed from bowl funds. That becomes an illegal contribution of corporate money to influence elections.

According to an investigative report, more than $48,000 was laundered that way, including $15,000 reimbursed to Junker.

The biggest recipient was U.S. Sen. John McCain, who received $19,500 over several campaigns. Jon Kyl, the state's other U.S. senator, got $3,000 in similarly reimbursed donations.

Also being investigated are trips to sporting events the Fiesta Bowl gave to legislators and a member of the Tempe City Council.

Lawmakers are entitled to accept free travel. But they are supposed to report it on annual financial-disclosure forms. Since the investigation of the Fiesta Bowl began, several legislators have retroactively amended their forms for prior years.

State law, however, prohibits legislators from getting tickets to sporting events, regardless of whether the value is reported.

Sen. Ron Gould, the Lake Havasu City Republican who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, said he is postponing further inquiry by his panel until the Maricopa County Attorney's Office finishes its own criminal probe.

The Bowl Championship Series fined the Fiesta Bowl $1 million for the financial improprieties but opted not to revoke its status as one of four sites that on a rotating basis host the national championship football game.

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