AUGUSTA, Ga: Four members of a Texas family have admitted taking part in an elaborate scheme to fraudulently obtain multiple Masters Golf Tournament tickets.
Stephen Michael Freeman, of Katy, Texas, pled guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud in proceedings held in U.S. District Court in Augusta, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. In addition, 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.
In pleading guilty to the charge, Stephen Michael Freeman agrees to a sentence of 36 months in federal prison and has paid community restitution of $157,493.70. At sentencing, the court may accept or reject the plea agreement. Steven Lee Freeman and Diane Freeman agreed to pay community restitution of $59,000 each, and with Christine Oliverson, are subject to sentencing by the court.
The payment of community restitution, negotiated through the Asset Recovery Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, is unprecedented in the Southern District of Georgia, and recognizes that the defendants are returning the proceeds of their crime. The funds from community restitution are dispersed under federal guidelines to qualifying non-profit organizations.
“These profiteering con artists thought they had succeeded in hijacking the Augusta National’s generous ticket lottery system to satisfy their own greed,” said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “The vigilance of the Augusta National staff and the investigative acumen of the FBI ferreted out the fraud, ensuring justice is served to these cheats for the federal crimes they committed.”
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,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “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.”
The case was investigated by the FBI, and was prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Lyons and Assistant U.S. Attorney Xavier A. Cunningham, Section Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Recovery Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Barry L. Paschal, Public Affairs Officer (Contractor): 912-652-4422