They may have lost the Super Bowl, but at least San Francisco 49ers fans can now relish the fact that police in Florida have arrested a Baltimore Ravens "fan" who scammed and taunted Niners faithful out of $5,900 for tickets to the big game.
Alameda County authorities on Wednesday said they have solved a case that gained national attention after this newspaper reported the scam before last month's Super Bowl.
Sharon Osgood, a Hayward resident and die-hard 49ers fan, and others sent the money to a man she met on Craigslist claiming to be a Ravens fan who had four tickets but could not make it to the game. She subsequently received a FedEx package that contained "Go Ravens! LOL!" messages and other insults -- but no tickets.
The Alameda County Sheriff's Office said the case turned out to be an unwieldy web of deceit that took them two months to untangle. Authorities say suspect Robert Pham, 37, had likely scammed other people before, and even told police he was a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve and that his father-in-law was the Ravens' physical therapist. They found 15 different addresses ranging from Florida to Las Vegas and multiple bank accounts linked to Pham.
"There was still all that anger about how could somebody do this and just think it was OK and send a note like that," Osgood, 49, said Wednesday. "Now it's kind of come to closure."
Pham, who told police he was innocent, lives in the South Florida town of Coral Springs
and was being held in jail there in lieu of $20,000 bail while awaiting extradition to Alameda County, said Sgt. J.D. Nelson of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. Prosecutors were filing one count of felony theft by false pretenses.
"I don't think he was a Ravens fan; I think he's a scam artist fan," Nelson said. "This is not his first rodeo."
It was not immediately clear if Pham had hired an attorney. Pham, whom authorities had suspected throughout their investigation, has not returned multiple calls or emails from a reporter over the last two months.
Nelson said the sheriff's office property crimes unit tracked the original email used on the Craigslist ad. The tracking number on the package sent to Osgood led them to a FedEx facility in Miami.
"They have a video of the guy coming in," Nelson said.
The credit union account that Osgood had sent the money to was dry, he said, and the money still has not been recovered. But it had a Las Vegas address, which investigators used to get Pham's Social Security number, which in turn led to a date of birth and Florida driver's license. After investigators froze the accounts, Pham called police.
"He says he sent the tickets and that somebody must have
taken the tickets in the mail," Nelson said. "However, evidence that we have does not support that."
After Alameda County deputies spent weeks gathering evidence and coordinating with Florida authorities, detectives in Coral Springs booked Pham into jail on Tuesday.
Ticketmaster, the 49ers and StubHub all offered free tickets to Osgood, her boyfriend Dan Briggs, other family members and fellow Niners fans who had been scammed. The five of them made a 36-hour trip in their RV to New Orleans to attend Super Bowl XLVII, where they also were treated to breakfast with NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.
A mini-media circus captured the family in New Orleans before the game when Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard formally presented them with four tickets, while Osgood -- a linewoman for AT&T -- also collected a fifth ticket from the 49ers. She said after all the gifts they wound up with an extra ticket and gave it to another 49ers fan they met in New Orleans who did not have a ticket.
Osgood's tale so mesmerized audiences not just because it pitted Niners faithful against a Ravens "fan," but also largely because commenters were split on whether she deserved sympathy or scorn.
After responding to a Craigslist ad and talking to the scammer for a week via phone, text and email, Osgood and the others pooled their cash and wired him the money across country -- a big no-no that Craigslist warns against on all its ads -- without proof he actually had tickets.
The scammer told the couple he was a Ravens season-ticket holder who couldn't make the game because his wife was eight months pregnant. A reporter's Google search for the man's phone number revealed he was also advertising a high-priced Mercedes-Benz and a Porsche because he had to "get rid of my toys" ahead of a divorce.
"We got to go to the game, and that's all we ever wanted," said Osgood, who now gets stopped in public by strangers who want to talk about her case after seeing it on the news. "Yeah, we lost $5,900, but we still got to the game, and we had an awesome time" despite the 49ers' heartbreaking loss.
But she had a message for her fellow fans: "Buying (tickets) on Craigslist is definitely nothing I'll ever do again."
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc. ___