Former Fiesta Bowl official sentenced to probation

PHOENIX (AP) — The Fiesta Bowl's former chief operating officer was sentenced Monday to two years of probation for her role in an illegal campaign-finance scheme that tarnished the bowl's image.

Natalie Wisneski avoided jail time because she helped prosecutors in multiple cases against current and former Fiesta Bowl employees who were allegedly engaged in the scheme, The Arizona Republic reported (bit.ly/SvkyJm).

During her sentencing, the 48-year-old former executive apologized to the Fiesta Bowl and to the court for her mistakes.

Wisneski is among six current or former Fiesta Bowl employees, including ex-CEO John Junker, who have pleaded guilty to state or federal crimes stemming from bowl investigations.

Wisneski and Junker told authorities they conspired with each other and a bowl lobbyist to ask bowl employees to make campaign contributions. The employees were then illegally reimbursed by the bowl, authorities said.

The scheme, first reported by The Arizona Republic in 2009, could have cost the Fiesta Bowl a place in the coveted Bowl Championship Series, worth millions of tourist dollars annually to the Valley.

The bowl conducted an independent investigation, and Wisneski was forced to resign in March 2011. The probe confirmed the campaign-finance scheme as well as widespread financial mismanagement under Wisneski's watch.

A Tempe native, Wisneski began working at the Fiesta Bowl in 1989 as an entry-level accounting clerk. In three years, she was promoted to assistant controller and eventually became the chief financial officer.

Bowl records show Wisneski had a total compensation of $363,261 her last year on the job. Other perks included a golf club membership, vehicle and cellphone allowances and reimbursement for home Internet, satellite radio and television. In 2009, the bowl paid for her to attend a Hispanic businesswomen's retreat in Paris.

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