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Former Fiesta Bowl director pleads guilty

The former longtime executive director of the Fiesta Bowl has pled guilty to a felony count of solicitation to commit fraud schemes.

John Junker, who was fired in March 2011 after a probe uncovered a scheme to reimburse improper political campaign contributions made by Fiesta Bowl employees, entered the plea in Maricopa County Superior Court on Tuesday.

Sentencing is set for April 26 in front of Judge Douglas Rayes.

Junker was long a prominent figure in college football and oversaw the Fiesta Bowl while it committed a wide range of infractions, including a scheme to pay back employees for at least $46,539 in campaign contributions, according to an investigation that uncovered a list of serious infractions.

Federal law prohibits reimbursement for federal campaign contributions.

The scandal cost Junker his job and prompted the Bowl Championship Series to fine the Fiesta Bowl $1 million, although it was allowed to remain in the BCS and keep its NCAA license.

The Fiesta Bowl was initially alerted by an employee who came forward to give information about the alleged misconduct. Its board of directors then formed an independent committee to investigate, resulting in a 276-page report with more than 1,500 footnotes.

In addition to the scheme to reimburse political contributions, the committee also found an apparent conspiracy to conceal the scheme from the Fiesta Bowl board of directors and state officials.

The probe also uncovered evidence of unauthorized and excessive compensation and non-business and inappropriate expenditures and gifts.

The board of directors, after reviewing the results of the five-month probe, voted unanimously to fire Junker for his role in the infractions uncovered.

Junker was found to have failed to cooperate with the investigation and had been placed on administrative leave more than a month before he was fired.

Former Fiesta Bowl chief operating officer Natalie Wisneski was indicted in November for making campaign contributions in someone else's name and filing false tax returns, among other counts.

She was also indicted by a federal grand jury for causing false statements to be made to the Federal Elections Commission and for conspiracy. She pled not guilty.