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Texas family sentenced over Masters ticket fraud

A Texas man who brought his family into a fraudulent ticketing scheme that used stolen identities to obtain Masters golf tournament tickets and resold them for a profit was sentenced to 28 months in prison yesterday (Monday).

Stephen Michael Freeman, his parents and his sister all pled guilty to wire fraud charges in June 2019 in the U.S. District Court in Augusta, acknowledging their role in the scheme which brought in an estimated $530,000.

Freeman must pay $157,494 in community restitution, while his parents, Steven Lee Freeman and Diane Freeman, are to pay $59,000 each. All but $50,000, which will go to First Tee, a youth development organisation introducing golf to young people, goes to the Community Foundation of the CSRA.

Freeman’s parents and sister Christine Oliverson were each sentenced to three years’ probation. In addition to the prison term, Freeman must serve an additional three years on supervised release.

“I’m here to be accountable and to make amends in any way I can,” Freeman said, reports the Augusta Chronicle.

Following an FBI-led investigation, the Freemans confessed in court last year that they purchased a mailing list and used its names and addresses to create several fake accounts in the Augusta National Golf Club’s online lottery ticket system.

Following this, the family would request a change of address associated with the false accounts using false driver licenses, false utility bills and false credit card statements in the identity of the fake user accounts sent by mail.

In doing so, any Masters tickets won through the lottery would end up in their hands in order to “resell the tickets at a substantial profit,” the charging document said.

FBI agent Chris Hacker said in the statement last year: “This scheme was designed to profit from the resale of tickets, but in the process, it also would have denied legitimate citizens a fair chance to obtain tickets to a prestigious golf tournament.

“We hope that this case sends a message that the FBI will make it a priority to investigate these cases, and if you get caught, you will pay the price.”

The golf club first contacted the FBI about suspicious activity in 2017, though the Freemans ran the scam for about five years.

The 2020 edition of the Masters has been postponed from its initial date in April to November due to COVID-19, and will be the third and final Major championship of the calendar year.

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