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Trial set for ex-Wrigley rooftop exec accused of bilking Cubs

Skybox on Sheffield, 3627 N. Sheffield Ave.,

Marc Hamid, a one-time Skybox on Sheffield executive, once tried to stop the Cubs from installing a video screen in right field. That same year, a federal grand jury accused Hamid of bilking the Cubs and local governments for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hamid's trial is underway. | File photo

Marc Hamid’s lawyers say the Chicago Cubs have a “reason to be angry” at the former Wrigleyville rooftop owner.

The one-time Skybox on Sheffield executive played a role in the unsuccessful federal lawsuit that sought to block construction of a right-field Jumbotron at Wrigley Field in 2015. But the same year, a federal grand jury threw a curve ball and accused Hamid in an indictment of bilking the Cubs and local governments out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The relationship between the North Siders and their neighboring rooftop businesses has so soured that the feds accused Hamid’s lawyers of once complaining his criminal troubles were “started by the Cubs.” But the feds also say the Cubs had nothing to do with it — they’ve been digging into Hamid’s businesses since at least November 2012, and they’re preparing to take him to trial Monday.

Hamid’s lawyers aren’t expected to pin his legal troubles on the Cubs. But the team’s legal disputes with the rooftops could come up during the proceedings, which are expected to last between two and three weeks in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin.

The case revolves around royalty agreements, attendance reports, amusement taxes and invoices printed out and stored in Hamid’s so-called “game day folders.” The feds say their investigation began with a tip from a former Hamid associate, and they’ve indicated they may call representatives of the Cubs, Goose Island, Groupon, StubHub and Ticketmaster to testify, among others.

But Hamid’s attorneys have taken a combative stance in court filings. They’ve accused one government witness of telling an “extravagant lie” and stealing cash from the rooftop business. And they’ve accused another of joining AshleyMadison.com — the dating website for married people — and hiring prostitutes in Las Vegas and Chicago “while he was supposed to be working.”

“We’re going to try this in the courtroom, and the jury’s going to decide,” Chris Gair, Hamid’s lawyer, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And I have a great deal of confidence that the jury’s going to find that Mr. Hamid didn’t do anything wrong.”

Two witnesses admitted last week to their own role in the scheme, entering into plea agreements that could land them discounted prison sentences if they cooperate with the feds during the trial. Ex-suburban cop Richard Zasiebida went first, pleading guilty to dodging about $140,000 in federal taxes by underreporting money he made from a ticket brokerage and illegal sports betting operation he ran with Hamid. Then, Park Ridge accountant Joseph Gurdak admitted not only that he helped Hamid scam the Cubs, but that he embezzled $358,000 from a cancer patient.

Meanwhile, Hamid is charged in a 12-count indictment with mail fraud and illegally structuring bank withdrawals. The feds say Skybox was required to pay the Cubs a 17-percent royalty on its gross annual revenues, in addition to amusement and sales taxes to Chicago, Cook County and the state. But Hamid allegedly diverted Skybox’s sales to his other business ventures — ticket brokerages JustGreatTickets.com and Just Great Seats LLC — and he allegedly underreported attendance on the rooftop.

The feds say Skybox routinely sold admission for more than 200 people on the rooftop, despite a city ordinance capping attendance at 200. In a series of emails to Gurdak, Hamid allegedly wrote, “we cannot report a number over 200,” and later added, “our occupancy with the city is 353. The problem is this ordinance which no one pays attention to has a cap of 200 for all rooftops.”

However, Hamid’s lawyers have argued that other rooftops didn’t even bother reporting attendance numbers. And they said that didn’t seem to bother the Cubs, which “tends to show that this reporting was irrelevant to their decision-making.”

In all, the feds say Hamid underreported his rooftop’s gross revenue by more than $1.5 million in a scheme that lasted from 2007 until 2015.