Federal prosecutors last week charged a high-level Microsoft director with five counts of wire fraud. They accused him of trying to embezzle $1.5 million from Microsoft, and then use his connections in the NFL to sell Super Bowl tickets for his own financial gain.
Jeff Tran, 45, was employed at Microsoft as the director of sports marketing and alliances. He managed the firm’s NFL relationship and its payments to third-party companies, per the federal charging documents.
In addition to selling the Super Bowl tickets that were intended for Microsoft workers, he allegedly created fake invoices to charge Microsoft for phony services, and the money was to be transferred to himself. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, when the company learned what Tran was doing, it fired him and called the police.
Tran was a key player in securing Microsoft’s deal with the National Football League that integrated Microsoft Surface tablets into broadcasts and gameplay.
Microsoft purchased several Superbowl tickets from the football league in January 2017 under the promotional agreement. It was intended for the tickets to be given to Microsoft employees. The NFL utilized a promotional company known as Wasserman Media Grop to deliver the tickets to Microsoft. Tran was the person who was supposed to deliver the tickets.
Microsoft often pays in bulk to Wasserman for many services. Tran allegedly directed an employee there to transfer the tickets to him and he would hand out the tickets.
However, it was discovered that he sold 62 Superbowl tickets for at least $200,000 via a ticket broker and he kept the money. He also allegedly made $12,000 by selling to an employee who thought he purchased the tickets himself. Federal prosecutors also allege that he submitted a bogus order to Microsoft for a $999,000 payment to Wasserman, which was supposedly for NFL-related marketing services. He put false expenses on that order and Microsoft approved the payment. Further, in March 2018, Trans asked another consulting company known as Sandoval Ventures to bill Microsoft $775,000 for services that Sandoval had not done.
Tran allegedly lied to Sandoval and claimed the purpose of the invoice was to make a payment to another vendor that was unable to bill Wasserman or Microsoft directly. Tran worked on a $775,000 payment from Wasserman to Sandoval Ventures. Sandoval Ventures then delivered the check of $775,000 to Tran.
Tran said he would forward the cash to the third party vendor, but he put the money into his own bank account. He kept the difference that was due from the payment of $999,000.
In July 2017, the worker also asked Sandoval Ventures to submit a bill for Wasserman for $670,000 in services for Microsoft that Sandoval had not actually provided. He claimed the company neede to issue the invoice so he could give the money to a vendor that had not been approved by Microsoft.
The vendor that was to get the payment was called Trade Craft Consulting. This was a trade name belonging to Tranmerica, a company that Trans had set up. Tran allegedly opened a bank account under that name, with Trade Craft Consulting being a trade name. He used a fake employer identification number and his personal address on tax forms.
Tran then sent an employee at Sandoval Ventures several texts telling him to submit the phony $670,000 invoice to Wasserman. Employees at Sandoval and Wasserman became suspicious. They reported Tran to Microsoft. He claimed that his systems had been hacked and he then deleted text messages that incriminated him. He also told Sandoval Ventures workers they should not tell Microsoft about the $775,000 invoice from March.
If he is convicted for wire fraud, he could get up to 20 years in federal prison.
Not the First Embezzlement for Microsoft
Microsoft has been ripped off before. Back in 2011, an ex-Microsoft employee was convicted of stealing almost $500,000. Robert D. Curry was sentenced to three years in prison. He was arrested in April 2011 and admitted that he stole $459,000 from Microsoft via several transfers that were intended to obscure the embezzlement from investigators.
According to federal prosecutors, Curry created a shell company, faked invoices and tried to make off with almost $2 million. The charges came after a lawsuit filed by the computing giant against Curry, in which the employee was accused of funneling a similar amount of cash from company accounts.
During his sentencing, both prosecutors and his own attorney were baffled why Curry, who had graduated from Yale and the Air Force Academy, would turn to crime. He was well paid by Microsoft.
Curry apologized for his crimes and said he was angry at Microsoft in part because his boss had humiliated him several times. But he admitted that he could not determine what his motivation was. Curry wrote in a letter to the court that he knew he would get caught and really did not even try to cover what he did. Rather than deal with stress directly, Curry said that he chose a path that would sabotage the rest of his life.
Curry was ordered to repay $459,000 to the company and must also pay for Microsoft’s investigative and legal costs.
The federal charging documents for the case noted that Curry used the third party Pentad Solutions to funnel money from April to November 2010, with three wire transfers totaling $515,000. The money went into Curry’s bank account.