- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona lobbyist who once represented the Fiesta Bowl and was charged with running an illegal campaign finance scheme on behalf of his lobbying firm pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to make a prohibited contribution.

The plea agreement by 56-year-old Gary Husk calls for more serious felony campaign-finance charges against him to be dismissed and said state prosecutors agreed not to file charges against Husk as part of their investigation of the Fiesta Bowl.

He faces up to six months in county jail when he’s sentenced on Jan. 27. Prosecutors aren’t seeking jail time, though the decision on whether to incarcerate him is ultimately up to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney. Husk agreed to pay $30,000 in restitution to cover the costs of the investigation against him.

He and his firm were charged with using his firm’s money to reimburse staff members who made contributions to high-profile politicians, such as Gov. Jan Brewer. Husk wasn’t charged for actions he took on behalf of the Fiesta Bowl, though the scheme alleged in Husk’s case was similar to a scheme that brought down the top leadership of the Fiesta Bowl.

Husk, the sole owner of his firm, also entered a guilty plea on behalf of his business to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to make a prohibited contribution.

Outside of the courtroom, Husk said he felt vindicated and that he wasn’t responsible for the Fiesta Bowl scandal. But he said he was responsible for his firm’s conduct. “I accept responsibility for it,” Husk said.

John Junker, the bowl’s former CEO, was fired in March 2011 for leading a conspiracy in which bowl employees were reimbursed at least $46,000 for political-campaign contributions.

In early 2012, Junker pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge and a state charge of soliciting a fraudulent scheme. He faces up to 2 ½ years in prison on the state and federal charges combined, but his sentencing has been repeatedly postponed because of his assistance in the state’s case against Husk.

After Husk pleaded guilty, a judge held a hearing in Junker’s federal case and set a March 13 sentencing date for the former leader of the bowl. Outside of federal court, Junker and his attorney Stephen Dichter declined to comment.

Several other Fiesta Bowl employees have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the bowl investigations. The scandal nearly jeopardized the bowl’s role as a host of college football’s national championship game and its NCAA license.

Federal and state authorities had raided Husk’s office as part of a criminal investigation involving the postseason college game in January 2012.

After Husk’s indictment was publicly released, his lawyer said the case against his client was an attempt by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to save face after failing to connect Husk to illegal activities at the bowl.

Husk is a former federal prosecutor. His firm represented the bowl from March 2000 to January 2011.

The Arizona Republic first revealed the campaign contribution reimbursements in December 2009.

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