A federal jury swiftly convicted a man Wednesday who swindled the White Sox out of roughly $1 million with the help of two ticket sellers who worked for the South Side baseball team.
A January 2020 indictment charged ticket broker Bruce Lee with wire fraud and money laundering, and the jury found Lee guilty of several counts of wire fraud. The verdict came after less than two hours of deliberation at the end of a four-day trial at Chicago’s federal courthouse.
It also came the day before the first playoff game between the Sox and the Houston Astros.
The trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse involved the betrayal of the Sox by a decades-long employee, a secret recording at a pizza place near Sox park and a brazen plan to take advantage of the South Siders’ complimentary and discount ticket programs.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider repeatedly told jurors “the White Sox got nothing” out of the arrangement between Lee and the longtime Sox ticket seller. But Lee’s attorney, Nishay Sanan, said any crime against the Sox took place inside the ticket booth. He said Lee legitimately thought he’d paid for the thousands of tickets he later sold on StubHub.
“We believe the jury got it wrong and that they didn’t look at the evidence that the government presented,” Sanan said in a statement after the verdict. “The evidence presented by the government was bleak at best. Mr. Lee will continue to fight this conviction.”
The White Sox also released a statement in which the team said it is “very pleased by the determination of the jury in this case. We are glad that the person who orchestrated the theft and profited the most has been held accountable.”
The scam first came to light in October 2019 with an FBI affidavit about the suspicious ticket sales, especially surrounding the August 2018 debut of pitcher Michael Kopech. A few months later, prosecutors accused Lee of making $868,369 by selling 34,876 fraudulently obtained tickets during the 2016 through 2019 baseball seasons.
The tickets had a market value of between $1 million and $1.2 million, authorities said.
The Sox’s data analytics team flagged Lee as a StubHub seller who had “sold more White Sox tickets than anyone else by a substantial margin,” and the team approached the FBI in October 2018. The analytics team also thought Lee might have had inside help.
A separate affidavit described an interview with a Sox employee who told the feds he and Lee had realized in 2017 that a “bad weather” ticket program for fans had “opened the door” for tickets to be printed “without the White Sox knowledge or consent” using the computer code “Rain17.”
“I printed more Sox tickets free of charge with the Rain17 code for Bruce Lee than any other code,” the employee told the FBI.
Two former ticket sellers for the Sox, James Costello and William O’Neil, later admitted their roles in the scheme. They acknowledged they generated thousands of complimentary and discount tickets — without required vouchers — and gave them to Lee in exchange for cash.
Costello used other employees’ ID codes to avoid detection, and he eventually recruited O’Neil to help with the scheme. Costello pleaded guilty to wire fraud and O’Neil pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Sanan told jurors Lee had paid a “tip” to Costello, but he argued Costello made the decision to keep the cash on his own.
“Whatever money Bruce Lee thought he was paying for those tickets, Costello put in his pocket,” Sanan said.