Masters officials take great pains to insure only a set amount of valid tickets are available each year. August National members also go hard after those who want to work the system and make a quick, albeit fraudulent buck.
Their latest target was a Texas family who were accused of running a successful elaborate ticket scheme from 2013-2017. USA TODAY’S Rob Schumacher reports. It cost them plenty including $275,000 in fines.
Prosecutors say Stephen Michael Freeman, his mother, father and sister gamed the ticket application system by conspiring to commit mail fraud and wire fraud from 2013 through 2017 by creating false user accounts to purchase Masters tickets. The four are accused of using names and addresses they obtained from a purchased bulk mailing list to register online with Augusta National Incorporated. None of the people whose identities were used gave permission or had knowledge of the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Freemans mailed and faxed letters to ANI in efforts to change addresses originally registered to the fraudulent accounts, prosecutors say. Stephen Michael Freeman, Diane Freeman and Oliverson are accused of creating fake driver licenses, fake utility bills and false credit card statements. They then resold the tickets for a “substantial profit.”
Stephen Michael Freeman, a former high school physics teacher from Katy, Texas, pleaded guilty to the charge in U.S. District Court in Augusta, according to Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Freeman agreed to a sentence of 36 months in federal prison and has paid $157,493.70 in community restitution. At sentencing, the court may accept or reject the plea agreement.
The FBI investigated the case that was first reported in late April after the Masters. FBI special agent Charles McKee III estimated conservatively that the family pulled in a profit of $530,000 in the scheme, according to the Augusta Chronicle. He told the Chroniclethey did not get all of the 1,130 tickets they “won.” He said 4 million emails were involved in the fradulent scheme.
Freeman’s parents, Steven Lee Freeman and Diane Freeman, and sister, Christine Oliverson, also entered guilty pleas. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
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.
Moral: Never attempt to best anyone who has unlimited funds and power.