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Posted: Wednesday March 30, 2011 12:56PM ; Updated: Wednesday March 30, 2011 5:47PM

Confessions, cover-ups and carte blanche: Inside the Fiesta fiasco

Story Highlights

John Junker built Fiesta Bowl from its humble origins; now he might bring it down

Internal probe details misdeeds of Junker and others plus subsequent cover-up

How did this happen? What will future hold for Fiesta Bowl and BCS as a whole?

By Austin Murphy and Michael McKnight, SI.com

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Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker (left) was fired Tuesday in the wake of a scathing internal investigation that uncovered scandalous and possibly illegal behavior.
Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker (left) was fired Tuesday in the wake of a scathing internal investigation that uncovered scandalous and possibly illegal behavior.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- She is a good person, but not a saint. Like at least 11 of her colleagues at the Fiesta Bowl, Kelly Keogh was reimbursed for checks she wrote to state and local politicians, a potential felony. Later, when an investigator asked her about those contributions, she didn't tell the truth.

But Keogh, a 32-year-old executive assistant, earned a measure of redemption one morning late last September. She'd driven the five miles from the Fiesta Bowl's headquarters on East Camelback Rd. to the workplace of Duane Woods, who eight months earlier had been elected Chairman of the Board of the Fiesta Bowl, a volunteer position. Woods didn't know it at the time, but his day job as a senior vice president for Waste Management, Inc. would serve him well in the turbulent months to come.

After dropping off some documents to be signed, Keogh asked to speak with Woods in private. "I said, 'Sure, come back and talk in my office.'" Woods recalls. "And she just unloaded."

The confession

In December 2009, The Arizona Republic had published a story detailing a scheme in which some Fiesta Bowl employees had been encouraged to write checks to specific political candidates and were then reimbursed for those contributions. After conducting an investigation that was later revealed to be rushed and deeply flawed, the former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods (no relation to Duane) announced that he'd found "no credible evidence" to support The Republic's claims. The story began fading away.

Then Keogh paid a call to Duane Woods. "Look," he recalls her saying, "There's something you need to know. It's very apparent to me that you don't know what's going on, and that you're being used."

For the next hour, Keogh unburdened herself. She told Woods that she'd made contributions and been reimbursed and that this had long been a routine practice in the office. She detailed how a lobbyist would come by to pick up the checks, and how she and her colleagues would be reimbursed shortly thereafter. She told Woods about inappropriate expenditures billed to the bowl by its CEO, her direct boss, John Junker.

Junker's days as the glad-handing, back-thumping, favor-dispensing face of the Fiesta Bowl were now numbered, and the landscape of college football would soon by altered, due in large part to Keogh's act of moral courage.

"She felt guilty -- she'd been carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders," says Woods, who thanked Keogh for her forthrightness and told her he would act on this knowledge.

And act he did.

Woods called an emergency meeting of the Board's Executive Committee, which formed a "Special Committee" charged with conducting a second, more comprehensive investigation. Working with several independent professional investigators, counsel for the Special Committee debriefed 52 individuals -- some on multiple occasions -- over a four-month period. The product of its investigation, a 276-page report made public on Tuesday, is a damning read: Junker, on paid leave since February 14, was fired the day it came out.

The misdeeds the report chronicles fall into three broad categories: the aforementioned political contributions and reimbursements; the subsequent attempts to cover them up; and the extravagant, inappropriate expenditures by Junker and a few others. Those charges range from the quotidian (Junker bills the bowl $75 for flowers sent to an admissions officer at the University of Texas, where his daughter is applying) to the curious (Junker writes a check for $2,934 to a medical provider called the Hammer Institute for human growth hormone) to the unbelievably profligate ($65,000 in October 2008 to fly various legislators and their families to Boston for a Boston College-Virginia Tech game).

As a co-worker of Junker's puts it, "John did, kind of, whatever he wanted."

While Junker declined SI.com's request to be interviewed for this story, his lawyer, Stephen M. Dichter, could not resist issuing an e-mailed reminder that it was his client "who took the Fiesta Bowl from a postseason game created so [that] Frank Kush's ASU Sun Devils would have a game in which they could be showcased while they and the rest of the WAC were completely ignored by the national media to its present position as one of the four pillars of the Bowl Championship Series."

Junker, more than anyone else, deserves credit for growing the Fiesta Bowl from its humble origins. By dispensing lavish gifts, picking up meals and flying cronies and pals to football games, he made the Fiesta Bowl's strident yellow blazer synonymous with hospitality. In so doing, according to various current and former bowl employees, he consolidated near-absolute power within the organization and began treating the bowl that paid him $688,000 last year as his own personal ATM. "The danger of building a business around hospitality," notes Duane Woods, "is that the very genius that got you there might also bring you down."

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