Prolific ticket broker accused of scamming White Sox to tune of $1M to stand trial

The case is heading to a jury just as the Sox enter the playoffs. It is expected to feature testimony from William Snell, the team’s director of business analytics, as well as two former Sox employees who already have pleaded guilty.

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Players stand during the national anthem for the Chicago White Sox home opener against the Mariners at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 5, 2019.

Players stand during the national anthem for the Chicago White Sox home opener against the Mariners at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 5, 2019.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

A Chicago White Sox program that made up for “bad weather” games by letting fans redeem tickets for another trip to the ballpark “opened the door” in 2017 to a ticket broker already allegedly scamming the South Siders, a Sox employee would later tell the FBI.

The team had no way of keeping track of how many tickets were being handed out under that program, the employee explained. So, he said it became a key part of the scam that wound up costing the team around $1 million, court records show.

But the Sox did eventually catch on. And Friday, two years after the public first learned of the scheme, accused broker Bruce Lee of Chicago is set to go to trial for wire fraud and money laundering. A 20-page indictment filed in January 2020 alleged Lee made $868,369 by selling 34,876 fraudulently obtained tickets during the 2016 through 2019 seasons.

The tickets had a market value of between $1 million and $1.2 million, authorities said.

Nishay Sanan, Lee’s defense attorney, did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday. The Sox declined to comment.

The trial before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly is set to begin just as the Sox are entering the playoffs. It is expected to feature testimony from William Snell, director of business analytics for the Sox, as well as two former Sox employees who have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the scam —William O’Neil and James Costello.

The feds also say they have a recording of a March 2019 conversation between Lee and Costello at a pizza restaurant near Sox park, in which Lee allegedly said, “I just sold them on StubHub, so nobody could see, like, how much I paid for the tickets.”

Costello has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, and O’Neil admitted he lied to the FBI. They entered their pleas in August 2020 and agreed at the time to cooperate with prosecutors.

The pair generated thousands of complimentary and discount tickets — without required vouchers —and gave them to Lee in exchange for cash kickbacks, records show. Costello used other employees’ ID codes to avoid detection, and he recruited O’Neil into the scam.

But the Sox’s data analytics team eventually 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 thought Lee might have had inside help.

An FBI affidavit filed in January 2020 described an interview with one of those employees, identified in the document as “Employee A.” That employee told the FBI he and Lee realized in 2017 the “bad weather” ticket program had “opened the door” for tickets to be printed “without the White Sox knowledge or consent” by 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, according to the affidavit.

Investigators have also pointed to the August 21, 2018, Major League Baseball debut of pitcher Michael Kopech. They said the game that day between the Sox and the Minnesota Twins had drawn little interest until the announcement that Kopech would take the mound. Within hours, they said, Lee had tickets to the game for sale on StubHub.

Lee allegedly told the FBI his arrangement meant he could get tickets whenever he needed them, though he didn’t know how far the scam went within Sox personnel. He also told the feds he “always thought of the old, the American way, you know,” according to court records.

If you take care of someone, Lee allegedly said, “you get taken care of.”

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