A former employee of professional golf’s governing body was sentenced to 14 months in prison Wednesday after admitting to stealing thousands of dollars’ worth of highly coveted tickets to the U.S. Men’s Open, one of the sport’s premier events.
Robert Fryer, the former assistant director in the U.S. Golf Association’s ticketing office, told U.S. District Judge Michael A. Baylson that a gambling addiction prompted his involvement in a scheme to provide 23,000 pilfered passes to the tournament — worth nearly $3.5 million — to two ticket resale brokers who cut him in on the profit.
Standing before the judge during his sentencing hearing Wednesday, Fryer, 40, of Perkasie, apologized to his former employer.
“They gave me an opportunity with what was truly my dream job,” he said. “I let them down.”
While acknowledging Fryer’s contrition, Baylson insisted he must serve prison time for his crime.
“To put this in plain language: You’re a thief,” the judge said. “You stole tickets that didn’t belong to you. You took advantage of an employment relationship. You took valuable property that belonged to the USGA, you stole it and you sold it.”
Typically, the USGA sells Open passes directly to fans or to a select group of authorized resellers, and caps sales at 20 tickets per person or business.
But if recent resale prices for the annual tournament — one of the four major championships in men’s golf each year — are any indication, golf enthusiasts are willing to pay almost any price.
Fryer’s scheme began during the 2013 Men’s Open, held at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, for which resale ticket prices ranged from $20 for single-day, practice-round access to $2,500 for a weekly badge on sites like StubHub and eBay.
By packaging tickets with luxury hotel stays and dinners with players, resellers can charge many times more.
In Fryer’s case, he was approached by two local resellers — Jeremi Michael Conaway, of the West Chester-based Eagle Eye Ticketing Management, and James Bell, of Sherry’s Theater Ticket Agency in Philadelphia — who were seeking access to tickets.
The two resellers would send emails with requests for dozens of tickets at a time. Fryer would either mail the tickets or deliver them in person, sometimes at the golf club where the tournament was taking place.
All three men were charged last year with conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud.
Conaway, 47, of West Chester, was sentenced to two months in prison earlier this year. Bell, 70, of Glen Mills, received six months.
And while Fryer immediately confessed and agreed to cooperate with the FBI against the two other men, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael S. Lowe said Wednesday Fryer was still ultimately the figure most responsible for the crime.
“He was the source for all the ticket brokers,” the prosecutor said. “He was the one breaching the trust of his employer to steal for them.”
USGA officials have said they first learned of the theft when contacted by federal authorities last year and have since put in place a new ticketing platform and hired an outside auditor to help prevent similar thefts in the future.
In addition to his prison term, Fryer was ordered to pay $3.4 million in restitution and serve three years’ probation upon his release.
“Until the time of his involvement [in this crime], Robert Fryer was a success story,” his attorney Robert E. Goldman said. “He has no one to blame but himself for where he stands today.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story, citing court filings that were incorrect, misstated the length of Jeremi Conoway’s sentencing. He was sentenced to two months.