A Texas family that created fake names and email accounts in an effort to secure badges to The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, has been caught.
Stephen Michael Freeman, of Katy, Texas, pled guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud in proceedings held in U.S. District Court in Augusta, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia. Additionally, Freeman’s parents, Steven Lee Freeman and Diane Freeman, of Helotes, Texas, and sister, Christine Oliverson, of San Antonio, Texas, also entered guilty pleas to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Stephen Michael Freeman agreed to a 36-month sentence in federal prison and paid restitution of $157,493.70. Steven Lee Freeman and Diane Freeman agreed to pay restitution of $59,000 each, and along with Oliverson, are subject to sentencing by the court.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
The defendants admitted in court that they used names and addresses from a purchased bulk mailing list to create multiple fraudulent accounts in the Augusta National Golf Club’s online ticket application system. All this occurred without the knowledge or permission of the individuals whose identities were used.
When any applications received notice of ticket awards via the email addresses provided for them, Stephen Michael Freeman or others acting at his direction would create fake identification documents including driver’s licenses, utility bills and credit card statements to persuade the Augusta National to change the winner’s mailing address to one that was under control of the conspiracy. Once the defendants received the tickets at those addresses via U.S. Mail, they would then resell the tickets at a substantial profit. Also, in some cases in which the recipient’s address was unchanged, one or more of the defendants would visit the recipient’s home to persuade them, sometimes with modest payment, to turn over the tickets by claiming they had been sent to the wrong address by mistake.
“This scheme was designed to profit from the resale of tickets, but in the process, it also would have denied legitimate citizens a fair chance to obtain tickets to a prestigious golf tournament,” Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement. “We hope that this case sends a message that the FBI will make it a priority to investigate these cases, and if you get caught, you will pay the price.”
“These profiteering con artists thought they had succeeded in hijacking the Augusta National’s generous ticket lottery system to satisfy their own greed,” added Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
On a slightly related noted, the Masters, considered one of the most expensive tickets in sports — fans have been known to pay $6,000 for a four-day pass — also offers some of the least expensive food items around. A grilled chicken wrap or grilled chicken sandwich costs $3, while a turkey and cheese on wheat goes for just $2.50. A blueberry muffin? $1.50. And a good ol’ bottle of water will set you back only $2.
However, as BusinessInsider.com surmised: “[I]f you had the cash necessary to get in the door at Augusta National, chances are paying $1.50 for a bag of chips isn’t going to break the bank.”