CHICAGO - The Chicago Cubs for years complained that rooftop businesses with views into Wrigley Field sucked away cash that could, in a modest way, help the team win its first World Series in over a century. As of Friday, they can now point to one rooftop owner who's charged with cheating the team.
R. Marc Hamid, a 46-year-old co-owner of Skybox on Sheffield, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of defrauding the team and tax authorities out of $600,000 from 2008 to 2011, prosecutors announced Friday. Hamid faces four counts of mail fraud, each carrying a maximum 20-year prison term.
Hamid's attorney, Chris Gair, denied the charges. "My client didn't do many anything wrong and we are going to prove that in court," he said.
Cubs spokesman Julian Green declined comment.
Word of the indictment comes as U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall prepares to rule soon on a request by Skybox on Sheffield and another rooftop business to stop construction of a right-field video board they say will block views and kill their businesses. They want an injunction at least until a wider lawsuit is resolved.
The rooftop businesses offer views of the games without being inside the stadium. Ongoing renovations to modernize the century-old ballpark -- including the video board, a left-field Jumbotron and five other signs -- prompted several rooftops to sue.
The Ricketts family, whose scion founded the online brokerage company Ameritrade, bought the Cubs in 2009 and has been sparring with the rooftop owners ever since. The Cubs have argued in and out of court that bringing the historic stadium up to standards of other major league ballparks will help them field better teams.
A 2004 revenue-sharing deal lets the rooftops profit from the game views, though each is required to pay 17 percent of gross revenue to the Cubs. Skybox on Sheffield allegedly understated attendance and underreported gross revenue by more than $1.5 million.
The business' website says its rooftop features a three-tier deck with 150 seats, with tickets ranging from $75 to $225 a person. Even if tickets went for the lowest price, Skybox on Sheffield would bring in more than $11,000 per game.
Kendall is expected to rule before April 5, when the Cubs open the season at home against the St. Louis Cardinals.
During oral arguments Monday, Kendall told a lawyer representing Skybox on Sheffield that the Cubs clearly see the video board as critical to helping them generate the kind of revenue they need to make a playoff run.
"Where do you factor in 108 years of suffering Cubs fans?" she asked.
The attorney, Thomas Lombardo, responded that the Cubs stood to lose only modest ad revenue if they can't erect the video board. But if it does go up, he said, his clients will go promptly out of business.