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Scalping crackdown intensifies, yet little appears to change

The crackdown on ticket scalpers around Fenway Park is yielding little, if any, consumer benefit.

Scalpers are operating more circumspectly around the park, but they continue to do business despite the threat of arrest. In fact, many officials say an arrest has just become a cost of doing business for the scalpers.

What's unclear is whether the crackdown is having any impact on the sources of scalped tickets. The Boston Police have given the Red Sox details on all of the tickets picked up during arrests, but the Sox have made no public announcements about revoking the season tickets of fans caught reselling their seats.

Colman Herman, a Dorchester consumer activist who has filed complaints against ticket brokers for violating the antiscalping law and prodded police to take action against street scalpers, said the police effort is being undercut by the Red Sox.

"The best way to stop scalping is to take tickets away from fans who are reselling to scalpers," Herman said. "If the Sox are doing that, they need to make a big deal out of it. Then the word would get out and it would stop."

Ron Bumgarner, vice president of ticketing for the Red Sox, issued a statement saying the team is taking a variety of actions against people who violate its policy against ticket resales.

"These actions may include canceling season tickets, canceling individual game tickets, issuing warnings, flagging scammer accounts to look for future purchases, and/or investigating accounts further," he said.

Boston Police say they have made 21 scalping arrests this Red Sox season. That compares with just four arrests in the first five months of last season and two during the whole of the 2005 season.

Records provided by the Suffolk County district attorney's office indicate nearly every defendant has been charged with three crimes: ticket scalping, occupying a street for the resale of tickets, and unregistered hawking and peddling.

The maximum ticket scalping penalties are $500 for the first two offenses and a year in jail for subsequent offenses. The maximum penalty for occupying a street for the resale of tickets is $20 for the first offense and $100 for subsequent offenses. Unregistered hawking and peddling carries a maximum $200 fine.

Of the 21 cases, 12 were dismissed after the defendant paid court costs of $200 or less. One defendant paid $100 and pleaded guilty to occupying a street for the resale of tickets and peddling without a license. Another defendant paid $700 in fines and was found guilty of ticket scalping and peddling without a license. One defendant failed to appear for his court date and six cases are pending. Four of those charged were repeat offenders.

Daniel J. Hogan, clerk-magistrate of the Boston Municipal Court, who sets bail for most of those arrested for scalping, praised police efforts but said he doubted scalping could be eliminated. He said most scalpers pay their fines with cash right out of their pocket.

"It's just a cost of doing business," he said. "If they get caught, they get caught. They're very willing to pay it because the profit is so big."

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are preparing to do away with the state's 1924 antiscalping law that requires anyone in the business of reselling tickets to limit their markup to $2 above face value, plus certain service and business charges.

Representative Michael J. Rodrigues, Democrat of Westport and House chairman of the Legislature's Consumer Affairs and Professional Licensure Committee, said last week he was drafting a bill that would allow tickets to be resold at any price as long as consumer protections are in place.

Rodrigues said his proposal would allow current street scalpers to keep reselling tickets as long as they obtained a license, posted a bond, and displayed their license where consumers could see it. That way, Rodrigues said, consumers would have recourse if a ticket were counterfeit or an event were canceled.

Rodrigues said his proposal would make it easy to identify illegal ticket sellers and make it unnecessary for police officers to go undercover to catch scalpers. "That's a waste of police resources," he said. "I'm more concerned about getting guns and drugs off the street than illegal tickets."

Boston Police Captain William Evans, who oversees Fenway Park and has spearheaded the scalping crackdown, could not be reached for comment.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, declined to characterize the scalping prosecutions as either a success or failure. "As long as the statute's in effect, we will continue to prosecute scalpers," he said.

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Get some free financial advice Saturday at a clinic sponsored by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Officials say 160 financial planners will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Boston Sheraton Hotel, hosting workshops and working one-on-one with consumers. No business solicitations are allowed. Walk-ins are welcome, but participants can save time by registering at www.CFP.net.

Bruce Mohl can be reached at mohl@globe.com.

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