A pair of former Chicago White Sox employees were given probation last week in a case where they had stolen tickets from the team and passed them to a ticket broker who sold them on resale marketplaces. The broker had previously been sentenced to a year and a half of prison time in the case, but the insider connection escaped incarceration after providing federal prosecutors with “substantial assistance” in the invstigation that led to the convictions of all three.
James Costello and William O’Neil’s sentencing closed the book on the case, which emerged after the team realized that one seller on StubHub had sold a significantly larger number of tickets for their home games than anyone else, and contacted the FBI in 2018. The investigation revealed that Costello and O’Neil had generated complimentary and discounted game tickets without permission from the team, which Bruce Lee of Chicago-based ticket brokerage Great Tickets would sell through StubHub. Lee would repay Costello and O’Neil in cash out of his profits from the sales. Between 2016 and 2019, Lee reportedly earned approximately $868,369 by selling 34,876 fraudulent tickets. In 2018, he reportedly sold over 10,000 more tickets to games than the next three highest sellers combined on the resale marketplace.
Costello and O’Neil had pleaded guilty to fraud charges and cooperated with investigators, while Lee was found guilty at trial. Lee’s lawyers had argued that the team actually benefitted from the scheme, as the fans who purchased them and attended games spent money that might have never come in had the tickets not been distributed. They also argued that the crime was committed by the team employees who actually acquired the tickets, and that he was under the impression that he had paid for the tickets he was selling.
In addition to his prison time, Lee was ordered to pay $455,229 in forfeiture and $74,650 in restitution of his ill-gotten gains. Prosecutors gave the cooperators three years of probation and 300 hours of community service as their punishment for exploiting their access to the team’s systems in the scheme.
“But for Jim Costello’s cooperation, the outcome of this case would have been very different and we would not have had a just outcome,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said. Before he was sentenced, Costello told the judge he loves the Sox and has “deep regret for betraying” the team’s trust. O’Neil also apologized and told the judge, “This is going to dog me for the rest of my life. I know that.”
Costello was the original operator of the scame alongside Lee, after realizing that one particular ticket program related to weather issues would allow for the generation of complimentary and discounted tickets without being easily traced. He told investigators that he used other employee ID codes to evade detection, eventually bringing in O’Neil to assist as the scheme grew.