Former White Sox ticket sellers plead guilty in ticket scam that cost team $1M

A third defendant in the case, prolific ticket broker Bruce Lee, still faces 11 counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. His trial has been set for Jan. 25.

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Chicago White Sox starter Michael Kopech pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the baseball game during his Major League debut on Aug. 21, 2018, in Chicago.

Chicago White Sox starter Michael Kopech pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the baseball game during his Major League debut on Aug. 21, 2018, in Chicago.

AP file photo

Two former Chicago White Sox ticket sellers pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to their roles in a scheme with a ticket broker to fraudulently sell thousands of tickets to the South Siders’ baseball games, costing the team about $1 million.

James Costello, 67, and William O’Neil, 51, each admitted their crimes during hearings held by videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic. Costello pleaded guilty to wire fraud, and O’Neil admitted he lied to the FBI.

A third defendant in the case, prolific ticket broker Bruce Lee, still faces 11 counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. His trial has been set for Jan. 25. The plea agreements for Costello and O’Neil anticipate the men will cooperate with prosecutors and that their sentencing hearings will be delayed until their cooperation is complete.

A 20-page indictment that became public in January alleged that Lee made $868,369 by fraudulently selling 34,876 tickets during the 2016 through 2019 baseball seasons.

The indictment said Costello and O’Neil generated thousands of complimentary and discount tickets — without required vouchers — and gave them to Lee in exchange for cash. During Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said Costello collected more than $100,000 from Lee.

Costello used other employees’ ID codes to avoid detection as he accessed White Sox Ticketmaster computers. He eventually recruited O’Neil to help with the scheme.

Schneider said O’Neil lied to FBI agents investigating the scam in March 2019, telling them he’d never given tickets to Lee without the knowledge and consent of the White Sox.

Lee allegedly sold 6,323 of the tickets during the 2016 baseball season, 17,408 during the 2017 season, 11,115 during the 2018 season and 30 in the run-up to the 2019 season. He sold the tickets exclusively on StubHub, below face value, because he thought that would conceal the source of the tickets, according to the indictment.

However, court records that became public last October show a White Sox senior vice president approached the FBI in October 2018 to report Lee. The Sox’s data analytics team had flagged him as a StubHub seller who had “sold more White Sox tickets than anyone else by a substantial margin.”

They also determined that more than 96 percent of his ticket sales involved complimentary vouchers, which go to friends and family of the players, youth groups, commercial sponsors and others — and are not meant for sale.

Pointing to the 11,000 tickets Lee allegedly sold during the 2018 season, the agent noted that the next most successful three sellers on StubHub sold just 129, 113 and 108 tickets, respectively.

The White Sox analytics team also “advised that it appears the White Sox employee or employees” were working with Lee.

For example, an affidavit said Lee sold 500 tickets to the Major League Baseball debut of rookie pitcher Michael Kopech in August 2018. The White Sox senior vice president thought such ticket sales “could not have happened without a White Sox employee providing inside assistance.”

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