Four members of a Texas family who were accused of running an elaborate Masters ticket scheme are pleading guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and have agreed to pay more than $275,000 in community restitution, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced Monday.
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 Chronicle they 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.
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.”
A news release on Monday called the community restitution “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.”