TOPEKA, Kan. — The University of Kansas' chancellor ordered a review Wednesday of athletic director Lew Perkins' acceptance of thousands of dollars worth of exercise equipment but also suggested he'd been the victim of "a rush to judgment."
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement that Perkins returned the equipment to the now-defunct company that supplied it and paid "a fair rental value." She said she's directed senior university staff to review the case and finish their investigation within 10 working days.
Perkins' acceptance of the equipment five years ago may create an issue for him under Kansas ethics laws prohibiting state employees from accepting most gifts. Those laws apply to employees who receive part of their regular compensation from state funds – which appears to cover Perkins.
But a Perkins spokesman said the athletic director doesn't believe he did anything improper.
And Gray-Little said: "I urge that there not be a rush to judgment in the absence of facts that support the allegations."
Perkins' acceptance of the equipment surfaced days after the university disclosed the results of an investigation into an alleged ticket-scalping scam that may have cost it as much as $3 million. Perkins publicly took responsibility for what happened but wasn't involved in the alleged scheme.
Carol Williams, the state Governmental Ethics Commission's executive director, wouldn't discuss Perkins' situation Wednesday and would not say whether the commission's staff was investigating it.
An employee who violates the gift law can be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense. The law also makes a violation grounds for an employee's dismissal by a supervisor.
Perkins did not attend a meeting Wednesday of Big 12 conference officials in Kansas City, Mo. Gray-Little was in London until the weekend, meeting with alumni and other university supporters, spokesman Jack Martin said.
Steve McAllister, a Lawrence attorney representing Perkins, did not return telephone messages left by The Associated Press at his office.
But associate athletic director Jim Marchiony told the AP that Perkins reported his situation to the ethics commission.
"He does not believe that he violated any rules, but wanted to be aboveboard so that any questions can be reviewed and put to rest," Marchiony said.
The university's investigation into the alleged ticket scam concluded that a part-time consultant and five athletic department employees, including some top Perkins lieutenants, conspired to acquire basketball and football tickets, then sold them and pocketed the money. The scheme involved nearly 20,000 tickets from 2005-2010.
But a former sports medicine director for the university forwarded e-mails to the Topeka Capital-Journal, accusing Perkins of accepting equipment from Medical Outfitters, a Leawood company, in exchange for giving its owners access to premium men's basketball tickets.
Perkins and the company's co-owner denied that Perkins accepted the equipment in exchange for favors. And the company official told both the Capital-Journal and Lawrence Journal-World that the equipment, for physical rehabilitation, was worth about $15,000.
Even before the e-mails became public, Perkins had filed a report with local police, saying he was being blackmailed. Gray-Little said the university was aware of the police report before the newspaper stories on the e-mails surfaced.
Newspaper reports said the equipment was in Perkins' home from 2005 into 2009. Medical Outfitters – which also was known by two other names – filed for bankruptcy in 2007, and its assets were sold the following year, according to federal court records.
Perkins appears to fall under the state gift ban because part of his compensation comes from state funds.
The state Board of Regents, which oversees state universities, said during the budget year ending June 30 and the previous one, Perkins received $800,000 in salary, plus an additional $100,000 for media relations work. Of that, about $194,000 came from state funds.
The law dealing prohibiting state employees from accepting gifts applies to loans, gratuities, special discounts, services and other "economic opportunities" if they're given "because of a person's official position."
The law does make exceptions for gifts of less than $40, such as plaques presented at a public ceremony, or gifts accepted on behalf of the state, if they become state property. The law also allows gifts from relatives or personal friends.
Associated Press Writer Bill Draper in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.
University of Kansas athletics: http://www.kuathletics.com/
Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission: http://www.kansas.gov/ethics/