Family pleads guilty to Masters ticket scam

Four members of a Texas family who gamed the Masters ticket lottery in an elaborate scam have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Augusta has announced.

Stephen Michael Freeman, of Katy, Texas, agreed in a plea deal to a sentence of 36 months in federal prison and has paid $157,493.70 in community restitution.

Freeman’s parents, Steven Lee Freeman and Diane Freeman, have agreed to pay $59,000 each in community restitution. His sister, Christine Oliverson, is also subject to sentencing by the court.

The defendants admitted in court 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 without the knowledge or permission of the individuals whose identities were used.

As part of the scheme, the defendants were accused of creating fake driver’s licenses, utility bills and credit card statements to get tickets they then resold for a “substantial profit”, according to authorities.

Face value for practice round tickets this year was $75, while daily tournament badges were $115. Augusta National forbids the resale of tickets.

“These profiteering con artists thought they had succeeded in hijacking the Augusta National’s generous ticket lottery system to satisfy their own greed,” Attorney Bobby Christine said in a statement.

“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 U.S. Attorney’s office called the negotiated community restitution totalling almost $275,500 “unprecedented in the Southern District of Georgia”.

The FBI investigated the case that was first reported in late April after the Masters.