Ex-rooftop owner admits he scammed Cubs, gets 18 months in prison

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - The former owner of a Wrigleyville rooftop business came clean Monday about scamming the Chicago Cubs and local governments out of hundreds of thousands of dollars just before a federal judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Speaking through tears in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin, ex-Skybox on Sheffield owner Marc Hamid described Wrigley Field as a “special, unique place” where he once had the opportunity to build a business and meet his wife.

Then he said, “I repaid the Cubs for that opportunity by defrauding them.”

Durkin told Hamid “you didn’t have to do what you did” as he also ordered Hamid to pay $391,896 in restitution to the Cubs, the state, Cook County and Chicago. But federal prosecutors had sought far more prison time for Hamid, asking Durkin in a memo last month to hand down a sentence of as many as eight years.

A jury found Hamid, 48, guilty after a two-week trial in July of four counts of mail fraud and five counts of illegally structuring bank transactions. Prosecutors said in their memo that Hamid’s business model was “designed to cheat business partners, investors, vendors and the government, without regard to the consequences.”

The feds also accused Hamid of shorting the Cubs by $370,813, the government by $146,746 and caterers by $90,924 — for a total haul of $608,483. But Durkin ultimately found Hamid’s scheme netted less than $550,000, including a loss to the Cubs of closer to $245,000.

Hamid defense attorney Chris Gair asked for “straight probation” in his own memo last month. After telling jurors in July that “Mr. Hamid, my client, did not deliberately scheme to cheat anybody out of anything,” Gair told the judge Monday that he actually believed the evidence against Hamid was “overwhelming.” He said his client simply refused to accept what he’d done until after he’d been convicted.

“That barrier of denial began to crumble as the government’s case was presented, and he has finally come to realize that, despite all his rationalizations to himself and others, his conduct was illegal, wrong and inexcusable,” Gair wrote. “While he did not set out in business to defraud the Cubs or the authorities, that is exactly what he ended up doing.”

Gair described his client as a selfless and generous family man who was even willing to pay for a co-worker’s reconstructive surgery. Hamid is married, has two children and his wife is pregnant. Gair said Hamid has surrendered his remaining interest in Skybox to his co-owner and has already paid $275,000 toward restitution.

“This trial has made it blindingly clear to me how many poor decisions I made,” Hamid said.

At the center of the government’s case against Hamid was a royalty agreement hashed out by the Cubs and Wrigleyville’s rooftop owners, which prosecutors said Hamid took advantage of by hiding $1.5 million of the rooftop’s revenue. Cubs chief financial officer Jon Greifenkamp took the stand early in the trial, and he explained how the rooftop owners came to owe 17 percent of their gross revenue to the North Side baseball team as a royalty payment.

The investigation into the scam also nabbed Joseph Gurdak, a Park Ridge accountant who admitted he helped bilk the Cubs and embezzled $358,000 from a cancer patient. Richard Zasiebida, a former suburban cop, also admitted he dodged about $140,000 in federal taxes in connection with Hamid’s fraud scheme.

Gurdak’s sentencing is set for Feb. 28; Zasiebida’s is March 2. Prosecutors said they would likely seek a sentence of around 30 months for Gurdak, but that was before Durkin handed down Hamid’s 18-month sentence. They also said they would seek about a year in prison for Zasiebida.

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