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Judge rules ticket firm violated law

Decision could push state Legislature to alter resale statute

A Quincy District Court judge ruled yesterday that a licensed Weymouth ticket reseller violated the state's antiscalping law in 2005 when it offered to sell an $85 Red Sox-Yankees ticket for $500.

The decision by Judge Mark S. Coven could spell legal problems for the state's other ticket resellers, who charge similar markups. It also may increase pressure on the Legislature to do away with the existing ticket resale law, as most other states have done.

The existing law, which has almost never been enforced except in regard to people scalping tickets on the street, requires ticket resellers to be licensed by the state and charge no more than $2 above face value, plus some service charges and business expenses.

Coven, who described himself in his decision as a Red Sox fan since birth, delivered a message to lawmakers considering doing away with the existing restrictions on ticket resales.

"That is ultimately a legislative determination," Coven said, "but with a limited number of seats available and Red Sox games continuously sold out, the result would inevitably be that many families would be foreclosed the opportunity of attending a game."

Coven's ruling came in a case brought by Dorchester consumer activist Colman Herman against Admit One Ticket Agency LLC, which operates as RedSoxTix.com on the Web.

Admit One argued that Herman was not entitled to sue because he had failed to actually buy a ticket and therefore had not been harmed. The company also said its ticket resale price was legal because it included service charges, fees, membership fees, costs, and expenses allowed by the antiscalping law.

Coven rejected Admit One's arguments. He said Herman didn't have to buy "an illegally priced ticket in order to have standing to bring an action for an unfair business practice violation."

Coven also ruled Admit One violated the "language and legislative intent of the existing law" by recouping the cost of acquiring the tickets it was reselling and by charging customers a membership fee equal to 15 percent of the sale price.

The judge said Admit One paid $225 for the $85 Red Sox-Yankees tickets it was selling and illegally tried to recoup that cost in its $500 resale price. Coven said Admit One's 15 percent membership fee was illusory.

"The evidence is conclusive that the 15 percent markup on every ticket purchase does not represent a membership fee, as allowed by the statute, but rather a 15 percent profit margin on each ticket sale, which is not contemplated by the statute," Coven wrote.

The ruling awarded Herman $25 in damages and barred Admit One from passing on to consumers the acquisition cost of its tickets and charging a membership fee on a per-ticket basis.

Admit One's attorney could not be reached for comment and the company's owner, Gary Neyshtadt, did not respond to an interview request. Coven said Admit One's total revenue in 2005 was $1.78 million, its ticket acquisition cost was $875,000, and its profit was $275,977.

Herman said he was gratified by the ruling. "It is certainly a victory for me, but at the same time it is also a victory for all of the consumers of Massachusetts who want to watch our Sox and Pats do battle and pay a fair price," he said. "Going to a game should not be just for the rich and famous and our politicians."

Herman said he didn't know whether he would sue other ticket resellers. He said he hoped the state Department of Public Safety, which licenses ticket resellers, and Attorney General Martha Coakley would enforce the law.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which has never disciplined a ticket reseller and earlier rejected a complaint filed by Herman against another ticket reseller because the Dorchester resident had failed to purchase a ticket, declined to comment. A spokesman for Coakley declined to comment because her office had not seen the judge's decision.

James Holzman, the president of AceTicket.com, said the judge's ruling was troubling. He said he hoped it would spur lawmakers to change the law to make it legal to resell tickets at whatever price the market will bear. He said free competition would help drive down the price of tickets offered for resale.

Representative Michael J. Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat and cochairman of the Legislature's Consumer Affairs and Professional Licensure Committee, could not be reached to comment, but previously has said a ruling against Admit One would spur the Legislature to move quickly on legislation he is drafting to remove the cap on ticket resale prices.

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

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