By Dennis Wagner and Craig Harris, The Arizona Republic
John Junker, chief executive officer for Arizona's Fiesta Bowl , was fired Tuesday amid multiple investigations of alleged political campaign-finance violations and other financial misconduct, according to bowl officials.
Junker was not immediately available for comment.
Bill Hancock, executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, said the Fiesta Bowl could be removed from the elite group that hosts a national championship game every four years.
"The BCS group takes this matter very seriously and will consider whether they keep a BCS bowl game, and we will consider other appropriate sanctions," Hancock told The Arizona Republic. "If the bowl does remain a BCS bowl its handling of thing will be closely monitored going forward."
In a prepared statement, the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday called Junker's activities "improper and inappropriate" and said it was adopting reforms to restore public trust in the bowl. Among the reforms:
- The board will use a search firm to find a new executive director, chief financial officer and a general counsel/compliance officer to oversee the bowl's business affairs "and ensure that strict new policies and procedures are followed."
- A new general counsel/compliance officer will report directly to the board and the Audit and Compliance and Executive committees.
- The board will review and approve all compensation for senior level staff. Expense reimbursements to the executive director and any director will be approved by the board's Executive Committee.
- The board has adopted a whistleblower policy, including a hotline monitored by an independent company, so complaints can be filed anonymously.
- The board's Audit Committee has been restructured to oversee compliance issues and will overesee the compliance officer's enforcement of ethics codes, policies and legal and regulatory issues.
In December 2009, The Arizona Republic reported on political contributions by Fiesta Bowl employees who said they were reimbursed by the organization, a potential legal violation as well as a violation of the organization's tax-exempt status. The article also described bowl lobbying efforts and spending practices, both of which could breach federal rules for nonprofits.
Junker and representatives of the Fiesta Bowl's board initially denounced The Republic's report, despite the fact that it listed campaign donations that appeared to coincide with bonuses paid to bowl staffers.
The Fiesta Bowl hired former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods to conduct what was described as an independent investigation. Woods, who had political and professional ties to key figures in the controversy, reported within days that he found "no credible evidence" of wrongdoing.
But state elections officials launched a separate probe and referred their findings to the Arizona Attorney General's Office for possible prosecution. The Internal Revenue Service initiated a parallel inquiry that is ongoing.
Late last year, the Fiesta Bowl board announced that new information had prompted the formation of a special committee to hire outside investigators.
In February, the Fiesta Bowl said Junker had been placed on leave based on allegations involving the campaign contributions and questionable expenses.
Junker became the executive director in 1990 and was named the president and chief executive officer in 2000. He served three years as chairman of the College Football Bowl Association. In 2003, Sports Illustrated named him seventh most powerful person in college football. The Fiesta Bowl grew from a minor post-season football event into one of the nation's premiere bowl enterprises during two decades under Junker's leadership.
The Fiesta Bowl, based in Scottsdale, involves four nonprofit sponsorship organizations directed by a 24-member board of community and business leaders.
They oversee the Fiesta Bowl, the Insight Bowl and a prestigious National Championship college football game on a rotating basis. Annual festivities include a parade, a giant block party and other events.
The bowl's economic impact in Arizona is estimated at over $230 million per year. Its mission is to promote college football and education. Some proceeds are donated to charities.
The Republic has been a longtime sponsor of the bowl, and Republic CEO and Publisher John Zidich is on the bowl's executive committee.
The original article can be viewed here.