Tickets to The Masters, held annually at Augusta National in Georgia, are notoriously difficult to come by, and prices on the secondary market are generally preposterous. Four members of one Texas family apparently seized on the arbitrage opportunities presented by this situation in order to make quite a lot of money over a five year period starting in 2013, executing a fraud scheme that this week landed them all with felony conspiracy convictions in felony court.
Here’s how the scheme worked, according to a helpful summary from Sandy Hodson of the Savannah Morning News. Stephen Michael Freeman of Katy, Texas acquired the identification information of millions of strangers via bulk mailing lists. He used the information to register phony new accounts with Augusta National, and then used those accounts to sign up for the annual lottery the club uses to distribute single day tickets to The Masters. When any of his phony accounts hit paydirt, in order to prevent the tickets from being mailed to the addresses of the stolen identities, he and his sister and parents would create phony official documents in order to register changes of address with Augusta National, routing the tickets to addresses the Freemans controlled. This didn’t always work perfectly:
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.
But even with the occasional failure, the Freemans made a hefty chunk of change from their little operation. Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post says lottery winners pay just $115 per ticket for two to four tickets, and pegs the average resale price of tickets to the 2019 Masters at a whopping $2,484 each. The Freemans won an incredible 1,130 tickets during the five-year run of their scheme, and FBI Special Agency Charles McKee III told the Morning News the Freemans were able to turn at least $530,000 in profit reselling their ill-gotten tickets on the secondary market.
Freeman, his sister Christine Oliverson, and his parents Diane and Steven Freeman, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud on Monday. They were ordered to pay more than $275,000 in restitution, and Stephen Michael Freeman, as the architect of the scheme, agreed to three years in prison as part of his plea deal. The good news is, because this scheme mostly soaked up cash from golf fans clamoring to visit Jim Nantz’s idea of heaven, it comes very close to being a victimless crime.