By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - The former chief of U.S. college football's Fiesta Bowl was sentenced to eight months in prison on Thursday for leading a scheme to illegally funnel roughly $50,000 from bowl employees to political campaigns.
John Junker, 58, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David Campbell following a guilty plea two years ago to a felony conspiracy charge stemming from the scheme in which employees contributed to the campaigns and were later reimbursed.
Junker was the public face of the bowl game for two decades before being fired three years ago following a scandal that rocked the state and threatened the bowl's place in college football.
He could have faced 2-1/2 years in prison according to the plea agreement. Prosecutors had sought one year in prison and his attorney had asked for probation. Junker was ordered to report to federal prison on June 13.
"We appreciate the time and care the judge gave in determining the sentence he imposed," said Stephen Dichter, Junker's attorney, following the sentencing in Phoenix. "We honor and respect the court's decision."
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix declined to comment on the sentence.
Junker, often seen clad in the bowl's signature canary yellow blazer, was ever-present as the top executive of the Arizona game that played host to college football's national championship game every four years. His annual salary was
He was responsible for transforming the once-modest bowl game into a nationally known powerhouse in the world of college football, worth some $230 million to the economy of the U.S. southwestern state.
In reports beginning in late 2009, the Arizona Republic newspaper revealed the illegal contributions made to bowl-friendly local, state and federal elected officials.
Under the scheme, the employees would be solicited to make the donations and they would later be reimbursed for the exact amount in what was called "an employee bonus," according to court documents.
Junker still faces a March 20 sentencing in Maricopa County Superior Court on a related felony stemming from his activities.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)