PHOENIX – A former longtime Fiesta Bowl chief executive was sentenced to 8 months in federal prison on Thursday after acknowledging that he participated in an illegal campaign contribution scheme.
John Junker was sentenced after pleading guilty two years ago to a conspiracy charge in the scheme in which bowl employees made illegal campaign contributions to politicians and were reimbursed by the nonprofit bowl.
Bowl employees were reimbursed at least $46,000 for campaign contributions.
Junker is the only person convicted in the scandal to face time behind bar. The charge against him carried a maximum possible penalty of five years behind bars.
The scandal jeopardized the bowl's NCAA license and its status as one of four bowls in the national college football championship rotation. The Arizona 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.
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.
Prosecutors in the conspiracy case had sought a one-year prison sentence against Junker while he asked for probation from U.S. District Judge David Campbell.
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.
Junker, whose 20-year tenure as the bowl's chief executive ended with his firing in March 2011, also faces a March 20 sentencing in state court, where he pleaded guilty in 2012 to a felony charge of solicitation to commit a fraudulent scheme.
In his plea agreement in both federal and state courts, 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.
Prosecutors said Junker should be granted some leniency for cooperating with the investigation but should serve time behind bars because he abused his position of power by soliciting his employees to commit crimes.
"He has demonstrated that he is a person who is willing to bend the will of his subordinates to execute a criminal scheme of his own device," federal prosecutor Frank Galati said in court records.
Junker attorney Stephen Dichter said his client had acknowledged his guilt, cooperated with authorities and is genuinely remorseful. Dichter said the leader of the scheme was a lobbyist, not Junker, and that the bowl CEO wasn't deeply involved in the day-to-day operation of the scheme.
"The loss of his job, reputation and ridicule he has received as a result of these proceedings is a deterrent that will ensure Mr. Junker never makes the same mistake again," Dichter said in a court filing.
Junker now works for St. Vincent de Paul's and earns an annual salary of $47,000, compared to about $600,000 he pulled in during his last year with the bowl.