Two Philadelphia-area men fraudulently sold thousands of stolen tickets to the U.S. Open golf tournament, a scheme that cost the sport’s top professional governing body nearly $3 million, and allowed the men to pocket more than $1.8 million in combined profits, federal authorities said Wednesday.
Prosecutors allege that Jeremi Michael Conaway, of West Chester, and James Bell, of Glen Mills, who previously worked as ticket brokers for separate companies, acquired a combined 22,504 tickets over six years from a former employee of the U.S. Golf Association’s ticketing office who had been stealing and misappropriating the tickets.
That employee, Robert Fryer of Perkasie, was charged by federal authorities in August for his part in the scheme, which earned him $1.7 million in profit.
Prosecutors say beginning in 2013, ahead of the U.S. Open being held at the Merion Golf Club in Haverford, Fryer began stealing tickets to the sport’s premier event, and would then deliver them, either in person or through the mail, to Conaway, who would then resell the tickets at top prices through the unnamed ticket broker he worked for at the time.
Conaway, 46, then formed his own company, Eagle Eye Ticketing Management, in 2014, where he continued to fraudulently sell the stolen tickets, authorities say.
Through 2019, prosecutors allege, Conaway resold 15,504 tickets with a face value of $2,564,083. Conaway paid Fryer $513,719 for his work, and pocketed a profit of $1,276,134.
Eagle Eye Ticketing declined to comment on the charges.
Between 2017 and 2019, Bell, who operated the Philly-based Sherry’s Theater Ticket Agency, allegedly purchased at least 7,000 stolen U.S. Open tickets from Fryer, which prosecutors believe had a face value of more than $1.2 million.
Bell, 69, paid Fryer $324,652 over time via PayPal, charging documents allege, and then pocketed $598,234.
A person who answered the phone at Sherry’s Tickets said Bell was not in the office and said he didn’t know anything about the charges. He didn’t comment further and hung up.
The USGA usually sells tickets to the annual U.S. Open — one of the four major men’s golf championships — directly to fans or to a select group of authorized resellers, and caps sales at 20 tickets per person or business.
The USGA sold tickets to the 2013 Merion event for $30 to $50 daily, with weekly badges selling at face values of $125 to $175. But resale tickets on sites like StubHub and Ebay went for $250 for the day, and up to $2,500 for a weekly badge.
The court filings say that Conaway and Bell would email Fryer requesting bundles of sometimes hundreds of tickets at a time.
In August, USGA officials said they learned of the theft when contacted by federal authorities several months before, and said they’ve taken steps to implement a new ticketing platform and hired an outside auditor.
“The USGA continues to appreciate the efforts of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania in this investigation,” spokesperson Beth Major said in a statement.
“Criminals that conduct ticket schemes like this prey on the excitement surrounding big events; fans should remember that any item with a low price that seems ‘too good to be true’ should be cause for caution and concern,” acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in a statement.
Charges against Conaway were filed Sept. 20, while Bell’s were filed Tuesday. They each face charges of conspiracy, as well as mail and wire fraud, which carries up to 100 years in prison, and a $1.25 million fine, prosecutors said. Additionally, they would have to pay restitution to the USGA and forfeit their profits, prosecutors said.
It was not immediately clear whether Bell or Conaway had hired attorneys. Neither is in custody — they will surrender on a later date, a court spokesperson said.
Fryer, 39, has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy as well as wire and mail fraud, and faces up to 20 years in federal prison. He was released from custody Oct. 4 on $25,000 bail, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 8.