Originally created 04/08/01

Scalpers evade investigators



Wearing a visor and a pin-striped shirt, he stood in the shade of a restaurant sign along Washington Road on Saturday, holding a sign that said, "Tickets needed."

It wasn't because he is a golf fan.

Occasionally his cell phone rang, and he haggled over prices into a headset.

It's a soft market this year for Masters Tournament passes, he lamented. They're typically selling for hundreds of dollars, not thousands.

A deputy had already told him to move along once. He knew undercover officers were in the area, and he'd be taken to jail if he slipped up and sold to one.

"That's a chance I take. Speeding is illegal too, but you have to do it if you want to pass a tractor-trailer," he said. "I'm just trying to make a living."

While a gentleman's game goes on inside the gates of the Augusta National Golf Club, outside scalpers play cat-and-mouse with deputies.

Take a stroll along the hedges, and the sellers aren't hard to find. They're the men standing by the sidewalk holding up fans of badges. They have printed signs saying they want badges, but they'll meet demand as well as supply.

About a half-dozen Richmond County Sheriff's deputies in plain clothes have been working all week to stop scalpers. So far, the only arrests have been for disorderly conduct or soliciting business in the roadway.

An investigator working the area said making a scalping arrest has been difficult because the sellers know the law and know they can be arrested only if they agree to or quote a price above face value.

"They stay just below the threshold," Investigator Barry Davis said. "They ask you to make an offer, which kind of counteracts anything we're trying."

While a bill awaiting Gov. Roy Barnes' signature would make it legal for licensed brokers, selling sports tickets at an inflated price is currently a misdemeanor in Georgia. So are stepping into the road in search of business and disobeying an officer. Police have been using the latter two offenses to target those they say are selling the coveted badges worth $125 for prices well above that, in some cases as high as $1,500.

"If we catch them scalping, we'll arrest them for scalping, but it's hard to do because they recognize a lot of us," said Col. Gary Powell, who is overseeing operations at the Masters. "If that's the case, we try to get them out of the area."

The investigator said a group of British scalpers has been working most of the week. Five men from London have already been arrested: four on disorderly conduct charges, one on a charge of soliciting business in the roadway. The latest were John Sadgrove, 38, and Alan Scott, 46, who were booked Saturday morning for disorderly conduct.

Other scalpers Davis warned to leave were grateful to be spared arrest and showed their appreciation by telling him what others are up to, he said. In one reported scam, patrons pay $100 to be walked through the gate with a badge on their shirt, then when they reach the pro shop, the seller unpins the badge and returns to the street.

Some are working in groups with cell phones and pagers, and different people act as the salesman, the badge keeper and the cash holder, which also makes a scalping arrest difficult, Davis said.

Confiscated passes have been turned over to Augusta National, police said. The names of the tickets' owners are then submitted to tournament headquarters and can be removed from the list.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225.