Former Barton County AD pleads guilty to mail fraud

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WICHITA, Kan. -- Barton County Community College's former athletic director pleaded guilty Tuesday to mail fraud for a scheme to get a medical hardship ruling for an athlete who was not entitled to it, so that the athlete could play basketball for an extra year.

Neil Elliott, 42, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on the day his trial had been scheduled to begin for 12 counts alleging conspiracy, theft of federal funds, embezzlement from student assistance programs, and mail fraud.

As part of a plea deal with the government, prosecutors dropped 11 counts against him. Under the agreement, Elliott will pay no restitution and prosecutors will recommend the low end of sentencing guidelines.

U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren declined to comment after the hearing, but his office later issued a written statement in which Melgren said the documents in question -- which bore the forged signature of a basketball player -- falsely stated the athlete had been injured while playing for the men's basketball team.

Elliott faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Elliott, who resigned as athletic director in May, was the highest-ranking Barton County Community College official charged in an investigation that snared eight people and led to the firing of the college's president.

The fraud count to which Elliott admitted guilt involved the mailing of documents to the National Junior College Athletic Association in Colorado Springs, Colo., seeking a medical hardship ruling for basketball player DaJuan Clayton. Such a ruling would allow Clayton to regain a year of athletic eligibility.

Clayton quit the men's basketball team in the fall of 2001, after a disagreement with the coach over his playing time. In the letter, Elliott falsely stated Clayton left the team because of an injury, according to the plea agreement.

Elliott had maintained his innocence since he was indicted last year as part of a wide-ranging scandal at the community college in Great Bend. Coaches were accused of using work-study and campus employment programs to pay athletes for work they didn't do, of falsifying academic records and of causing false academic transcripts to be sent to other schools, among other things. Barton County Community College's former athletic director pleaded guilty Tuesday to mail fraud for a scheme to get a medical hardship request for an athlete who was not entitled to it.

Neil Elliott, 42, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Monti Belot on the day his trial had been scheduled to begin for 12 counts alleging conspiracy, theft of federal funds, embezzlement from student assistance programs, and mail fraud.

As part of a plea deal with the government, prosecutors dropped 11 counts against him. Under the agreement, Elliott will pay no restitution and prosecutors will recommend the low end of sentencing guidelines.

Sentencing was tentatively set for Oct. 2.

"While the case is pending we don't feel it is appropriate to make any comments," defense attorney Robin Fowler said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: