Talk about a curveball: Microsoft director of sports marketing fired, charged with fraud over 'fake' invoices

He tells investigators: 'I was hacked!'

Microsoft's former director of sports marketing has been indicted on five counts of wire fraud, based on allegations that he created fake invoices to defraud the software giant and sold its property as his own.

The US Justice Department announced the indictment [PDF] against Jeff Tran, of Seattle, on Wednesday, claiming the 45-year-old attempted to steal $1.5m from the code, cloud and kit biz.

Tran's scheme, as described in the indictment, involved an attempt to misappropriate Microsoft funds and property, including more than 60 tickets to the National Football League's Super Bowl.

In accordance with his position, Tran oversaw Microsoft's relationship with the NFL and its payments to third-party vendors participating in that arrangement. The NFL provided Microsoft with various benefits, including the right to purchase Super Bowl tickets, so long as the tickets were used for the company's benefit.

Dodgy invoice scam

A promotional firm called Wasserman Media Group acted as an intermediary, handling the sale of the tickets to Microsoft and also payments to other vendors involved in promotional events managed by Wasserman. To pay for such events, Tran would submit a single invoice to Microsoft covering all vendor services, payable to Wasserman.

Tran, the indictment says, provided his contact at Wasserman with a list of Microsoft employees who would be going to the Super Bowl in early 2017. Instead of distributing the corresponding tickets, he's alleged to have sold 62 of them through a New Jersey ticket broker, collecting more than $200,000 in the process.

He supposedly also kept several Microsoft-owned tickets and sold them to a Microsoft employee, who paid Tran for them personally because the employee intended to give the tickets to family members. That netted another $12,400.

The indictment goes on to describe how in March 2017, Tran submitted a $999,000 invoice for fraudulent purchase orders, purportedly for NFL-related marketing activities. Tran, the court filing says, then contacted consulting company and vendor Sandoval Ventures, directing the firm to send Wasserman an invoice billing Microsoft for $775,000 in services never provided.

Tran told the two vendors that the invoice was necessary to process a payment to another vendor that had done work for Redmond but could not invoice the software firm due to a purported limit Microsoft placed on the number of vendors working on a project.

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He is said to have convinced Sandoval's representative to cooperate by insisting that failure to do so would mean ending Microsoft's relationship with the firm to make room on the size-limited vendor list for the biz Microsoft needed to pay.

Sandoval complied, sending a $775,000 invoice for "Talent Fees and Services per Microsoft Request." Wasserman, as the vendor overseeing the Microsoft relationship, paid $775,000 to Sandoval. Tran then directed his contact at Sandoval to pay him the funds in a hand-delivered check, under the pretense he would forward the money to the unnamed vendor. Sandoval, provided with a IRS Form W-9 that listed Tran's name, did so and the money was deposited in Tran's bank account.

In July 2017, the indictment goes on to explain, Tran attempted a similar scheme, using business names he created – Tranmerica and Trade Craft Consulting. This time he got Sandoval to submit a $670,000 invoice to Wasserman.

The scam unravels

Around this time, Tran's contacts at Sandoval and Wasserman became suspicious and reported their concerns to Microsoft instead of cooperating with the scheme. In late July 2017, Microsoft investigators questioned Tran about the March invoice but Tran denied knowing anything about it.

"When presented with documents evincing fraud," the indictment says, "Tran claimed he had been 'hacked.'" He then, allegedly, deleted the text messages he sent to his contact at Sandoval and attempted a cover-up.

But Microsoft was already on to him. Faced with the company's findings, Tran agreed to return the $775,000. In response to an inquiry from The Register, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "When we learned of Mr Tran’s conduct we investigated, terminated his employment, and then referred the matter to law enforcement."

The Register understands that Microsoft has since made some changes to how it handles Super Bowl tickets.

If convicted of wire fraud, Tran faces up to 20 years in prison, where Super Bowl viewing continues to be popular. ®




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