Cheryl Womack was a big supporter of KU athletics and called for its financial reform before she found her own problems

In the early part of the last decade, the Kansas Jayhawks played women’s softball on a hardscrabble Lawrence field that looked better suited to an adult beer league than to an NCAA program. The batter’s box faced into the wind, making it hard for sluggers to smack a ball deep into the outfield. Jayhawk Field, as it was known before 2004, was outdated, as were most University of Kansas athletic facilities at the time.

Women’s softball is a money-loser, and back then it was a low priority for a KU athletics department hard-pressed to reverse the fortunes of its moribund football program. Without private help, Jayhawk softball would continue playing on one of the worst fields in the Big 12.

Along came Cheryl Womack.

In 2002, the Mission Hills businesswoman, who graduated from KU in 1975, pledged $2 million toward replacing Jayhawk Field. Two years later, the 800-seat Arrocha Ballpark opened. It’s named after Womack’s father, Demostenes Arrocha, who came to Kansas City, Kansas, from Panama and raised Womack and her 10 siblings there.

Womack made her softball pledge the same year that she sold a business she had launched in the early 1980s. The National Association of Independent Truckers fetched $35 million in 2002, including $25 million in cash. The buyer was Sirva Inc., of Illinois.

Federal prosecutors now say Womack didn’t pay income taxes on that NAIT sale and has since deployed a number of schemes to dodge other taxes. Indicted in December, she was scheduled for a court hearing January 29, but it got postponed the day before.

The softball field was among the biggest and most visible contributions to Jayhawk sports from Womack, who would go on to become one of the program’s major boosters. Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for KU athletics, confirms to The Pitch that Womack is a contributor to the Williams Education Fund, a fundraising arm of the university’s sports programs.

Womack’s $2 million contribution, plus donations to the university, have helped her make ties with the school’s most prominent figures. She also has helped KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self and former point guard Mario Chalmers with their charities. But she hasn’t always liked the return on her investment.

She took Williams Education Fund director Rodney Jones’ son on her private jet to San Antonio to see the 2008 Final Four, knowing that doing favors for Jones could help her get better tickets to KU basketball games. But that assist to Jones didn’t pan out; he was indicted for embezzling from the athletics department, and Womack’s Allen Fieldhouse seats got worse.

Womack openly complained about the ticket-theft scandal that engulfed Jones and sent him and others to prison.

“What I was looking for as a large donor was someone to tell me how things will be handled going forward and what we can expect,” Womack told The Kansas City Star in 2010. “Instead, we’re being told that the donors were never harmed. How can they say that? We did not have good tickets. I feel like I’m a crumb who’s just been pushed under the rug.”

Now Womack has her own worries.

Womack hired two local lawyers last week to represent her in federal court. They replace the New York lawyer who initially handled her indictment but couldn’t persuade a judge to let Womack fly to the Cayman Islands to kick-start a trash-to-energy project, which she wanted to launch there by March.

Womack said she wanted to spend New Year’s Eve on the island, known for its sunny beaches and loose tax laws, because she hoped to party with officials there who could help get her project going. She also has a condo there, as well as bank accounts that prosecutors believe helped her dodge taxes.

Osbourne Bodden, minister of a branch of the Cayman Islands bureaucracy that would oversee a project like the one Womack proposed, expressed surprise to a Caribbean news service about Womack’s claims.

“We have no agreements or commitments to anyone in advance of this process being completed openly and transparently,” Bodden told the Caymanian Compass. “And we have no meetings or dinners for New Year’s with anyone but our families.”

Categories: News