A former Phoenix Suns ticket manager has pleaded guilty in Maricopa County Superior Court to stealing and pawning off tickets to NBA games in Phoenix between 2017 and 2019, embezzling nearly half a million dollars along the way.
Jeffrey Allan Marcussen, who entered a change of plea in court on April 8, ran his scheme on the third-party online ticket marketplace StubHub, which launched in San Francisco in 2000, according to court records.
The defendant “knowingly took control of property of the NBA Phoenix Suns with intent to deprive the Suns of game tickets,” according to the indictment filed by the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
Marcussen admitted in court that he stole nearly 3,000 tickets to Suns games and listed them for sale across a number of different accounts on the StubHub mobile application.
That raised red flags because NBA regulations prohibit teams, including the Suns, from selling tickets on third-party platforms.
"StubHub contacted the NBA when it discovered five different StubHub accounts all linked to the defendant," prosecutors alleged in court documents in November 2020. "After an internal audit by the Phoenix Suns organization, which included a confession by the defendant, law enforcement investigated the case. The investigation revealed, and bank records confirmed, that the defendant received a total payout from StubHub for $458,218."
Court records cited a company-wide email in June 2019 notifying Suns employees that Marcussen was no longer employed by the team. But at the time, the stated reasons were nebulous.
More than one year later, in September 2020, state prosecutors lodged four felony charges against the 44-year-old Cave Creek resident.
Marcussen, who served as the Suns’ ticket manager for 15 years, pleaded guilty to one felony count each of theft and fraud in a plea bargain.
Those counts usually carry a maximum sentence of 13 years, according to the agreement.
If Marcussen had been convicted after a trial, he could have been sentenced to more than two decades in prison.
State prosecutor Shawn Steinberg agreed to drop two counts of filing false tax returns as part of the plea deal.
“Probation with jail is an option, but so is prison,” Arizona Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Ryan Anderson told New Times.
Marcussen was guaranteed probation on the fraud charge, but even under the terms of the plea agreement, he could still face as many as three years in state prison on the theft charge, Anderson said.
The former ticket manager will be sentenced on June 7.
According to court documents, Marcussen must also pay $11,818 to the Arizona Department of Revenue and $1,780 to the Attorney General’s anti-racketeering revolving fund, which bankrolls gang prevention programs, substance abuse prevention programs, and programs that provide assistance to victims of crime.
That’s on top of the $458,218 he repaid the Suns, the total sum he embezzled over two seasons.
“It is my understanding the defendant has paid back the restitution to the Suns,” Anderson said.
During the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons, the Suns put about 820,000 tickets up for sale, after season ticket allocations. Two-thirds of the roughly 18,000 seats inside the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix are earmarked for season ticket holders, leaving 5,000 seats for sale at each of 82 regular-season games.
Marcussen was able to skim an average of 18 tickets to each game during those two seasons.
The Suns finished last in the Western Conference in both seasons, so the team didn’t play any postseason games.
Since the 2018-19 campaign, the Suns’ luck has changed. That’s when the franchise made hometown hero Deandre Ayton the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Ayton played the 2017-18 season for the Arizona Wildcats, and averaged 17.2 points per game for the Suns during the 2021-22 regular season at center.
Phoenix’s first professional sports club logged its third NBA Finals appearance last year and looks to return in May after All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker returns to the active lineup from a hamstring injury.
The stage has been set in Phoenix for a homecoming playoff bout against the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night in a first-round series tied at two games apiece. Fans are ready to #RallyTheValley.
The team is looking to bounce back from a 118-103 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans on Sunday night.
After that game, head coach Monty Williams, who was named NBA Coach of the Year on April 12, was fined $15,000 for publicly criticizing the referees in that game.
At least Williams isn't facing prison time.
In a statement, Marcussen's attorney, Mark Kokanovich said, "Jeff worked for the Phoenix Suns for close to 20 years. After the cold-blooded tragic murder of his brother near the end of Jeff's career with the Suns, Jeff began selling tickets without team approval. Jeff admitted to the sales and reimbursed the team while cooperating with the Arizona Attorney General's Office."
Marcussen’s brother, Thomas, was killed at a sports bar near 16th Street and Bethany Home Road in 2014.
Marcussen could not immediately be reached for comment.
The matter involving Marcussen is not connected to a parallel NBA investigation into the Suns and majority owner Robert Sarver, who faces accusations by former employees of racism and misogyny.