Guilty pleas by family involved in Masters ticket fraud
A Texas family who devised a scheme to fraudulently obtain Masters Tournament tickets, making more than half a million dollars in the process, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Augusta to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
It was Michael Freeman's plan and over a five year period starting in 2013, he brought in his sister, Christine Oliverson, 36, and his parents, Diane Freeman, 65, and Steven Freeman, 66, said FBI Special Agency Charles McKee III. Conservatively, he estimated that although they didn't get all 1,130 tickets they "won", the profit was $530,000.
The plea agreements Monday for his parents and sister will mean probation sentences, but Michael Freeman's plea agreement is for three years in prison. Chief Judge J. Randal Hall is not bound by his agreement, however. The plea agreements also require Freeman's parents to each pay $59,000 community restitution and for him to pay $157,494 in community restitution.
Last October, the Augusta National Golf Club contacted the FBI about the suspicion someone was rigging its ticket lottery. Starting in May each year, anyone can sign up for Masters tickets by registering with the club – providing name, address, email and the last four numbers of the Social Security number. If selected, the person receives a notice from the club about winning two to four tickets for one of the days of the tournament, McKee said.
The club mails out the ticket after it is paid for online. If a lottery ticket winner moves before the ticket is mailed, the person must file a change of address with the club and include a copy of a driver's license and a utility bill mailed to the new home, McKee said.
Michael Freeman, 40, devised the scheme to get tickets to resale by entering other people's names in the lottery, McKee said. At first he and his involved family members used names of people they knew. Later they expanded the operation by buying mailing lists containing names and addresses of people they didn't know.
If there were winners, they filed fraudulent changes of address so the tickets would be sent to an address they controlled, McKee said. In cases where the change of address didn't work and the ticket went to someone whose identity the Freemans used, Michael Freeman would write to the winner to say he had bought the tickets on eBay but there was a mix-up and asked the person to forward the ticket to him. A significant number of people sent the tickets to him, including one woman who went through the trash to retrieve the tickets she had tossed out, McKee said.
The FBI agent said there were four million emails involved in the scheme. The Freemans and Oliverson confessed and cooperated with the investigation, McKee said.
The judge granted each member of the family a $20,000 unsecured bond.