Ex-NESN executive jailed for embezzling over $500K from TV network

Ex-NESN executive jailed for embezzling over $500K from TV network

A former senior executive of New England Sports Network (NESN) has been sentenced to 42 months in prison for defrauding the TV network of more than half a million dollars, which he used to fund his extravagant lifestyle.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, Ariel Legassa, 52, of Connecticut, orchestrated a scheme to defraud NESN from December 2020 to January 2022. He was in charge of overseeing the network’s digital media operations and had the authority to approve contracts and invoices.

In early 2021, Legassa negotiated a contract with a New York company to provide web development services for NESN. However, he also created a fake business under the same name as the new vendor and used it to receive fraudulent payments from NESN.

During the life of the contract, Legassa created and approved 11 fake invoices from his fake company, while also approving legitimate invoices from the New York company. In total, NESN paid Legassa’s fake company over $500,000.

How the fraud was exposed

The fraud was discovered when NESN’s finance department noticed discrepancies in the invoices and contacted the New York company to verify them. The company denied sending the invoices and informed NESN that Legassa had created a fake business with the same name.

NESN then reported the fraud to the FBI, which launched an investigation. The FBI found that Legassa had spent the stolen money on personal expenses, such as a private plane, a Tesla, a BMW, a Land Rover, and credit card bills. He also transferred the funds into other accounts under his control.

How the fraudster was punished

Legassa was arrested in February 2023 and charged with seven counts of mail fraud and three counts of unlawful monetary transactions. He pleaded not guilty and went to trial in November 2023.

After a five-day jury trial, he was convicted of all charges. On Tuesday, he was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani to 3.5 years in prison and three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay restitution and forfeiture of $580,000 and a $1,000 special assessment.

“Supplementing your paycheck by scamming your employer is a really bad career move,” said Jodi Cohen, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division. “But Ariel Legassa did exactly that, taking advantage of the trust NESN placed in him to steal over $575,000 which he used to fund a lavish lifestyle.”

“Justice demands that financial fraudsters like Legassa be held accountable for their crimes and today’s sentence ensures that he will pay for what he did with prison time and restitution,” Cohen added.

How the victim reacted

NESN is a regional sports network that covers the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Bruins. It is owned by Fenway Sports Group and Delaware North.

NESN issued a statement after Legassa’s sentencing, saying that it was “pleased” with the outcome and that it had “cooperated fully” with the authorities.

“NESN takes its fiduciary responsibility very seriously and has a zero-tolerance policy for fraud of any kind,” the statement read. “We are pleased that justice has been served in this case and appreciate the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in bringing this matter to a successful conclusion.”