Judge scolds defendent in Barton County case

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

WICHITA, Kan. -- U.S. District Judge Monti Belot berated former track coach Lance Brauman on Monday for giving "evasive answers to straight questions" during the government's cross-examination of his testimony.

The judge sent jurors out of the courtroom after Brauman testified that he ran the track program at Barton County Community College "the best way that I could" during questioning by prosecutor Debra Barnett about athlete time sheets and a summer course he taught.

Brauman currently is an assistant track and field coach at Arkansas. He is on trial in Wichita for eight counts, including embezzlement, theft and mail fraud, alleged to have happened while he was head track coach at the Kansas community college.

With the jurors out of the courtroom, Belot told the coach that if he gave another evasive answer, Belot would use his prerogative as federal judge to comment on witness testimony. He warned that if Brauman forces him to comment on his testimony, it would not be favorable.

A visibly shaken Brauman apologized to the judge. His defense attorney, Lee Davis, briefly took Brauman out of courtroom to talk to him before he resumed his testimony.

With jurors back in the courtroom, Brauman acknowledged on cross-examination that he forged student signatures to time sheets.

Both sides have now rested their cases. Closing arguments were scheduled for 9 a.m. today.

Prosecutors contend Brauman participated in a scheme to give athletes work-study funds and campus jobs that paid them for work they did not do, and they also accuse him of causing false academic credentials to be sent to other schools on athletes' behalf.

The former track coach's case is the first to go to trial in a Barton County athletics scandal that spawned charges against seven coaches and the athletic director and led to the firing of the school's president.

In his earlier testimony Monday, Brauman said it was common practice at the school to use work-study and campus employment programs to make up the difference between financial aid given athletes and the cost of their schooling. The athletes did not get any work-study money themselves, but just enough work hours were credited to their student accounts so that their accounts were "zeroed out" by the end of the semester.

Brauman testified the practice had been ongoing for 20 years.

"It was known throughout the entire institution," Brauman said.

When he questioned it, Brauman said he was told by then-President Veldon Law and athletic director Neil Elliott that the money was Barton County Community College funds that were being used.

"It was the school's policy and the school's money as far as I was concerned," Brauman said. "I was told it was Barton County money out of the general fund."

The practice benefited the student-athlete, and since the money went directly to pay the athlete's room and board, Brauman likened it to one department paying another.

"It was Peter paying Paul -- it is the best analogy I can come up with," Brauman said.

He said he required his athletes to work for their work-study funds, but acknowledged on cross-examination they did not work all the hours for which they were paid.

Brauman testified he left Barton County Community College for the job at the University of Arkansas in 2002 in part because he was bothered by the way campus employment was handled, as well as the way some of the summer classes were taught.

"I was not comfortable with the things that had to be done there to have a team," Brauman said.

Also testifying Monday was Jay Sirianni, an assistant baseball coach at the University of Texas at Arlington. He was an assistant baseball coach at Barton County between 2001 and 2004.

Sirianni, who is not charged in connection with the scandal, testified that it was the common practice among the college's various sports to turn in enough hours on time sheets so that athlete accounts are zeroed out at the end of the semester.

Sirianni said the college's baseball and softball players had a reputation for actually working most of those hours. The track athletes also worked, but he testified he did not know for how much of those paid hours.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Tuesday morning after closing arguments.

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