Friday, May 25, 2018
News Roundup

Police: Alabama fans sting scalper who sold them fake tickets to College Football Playoff title game in Tampa

TAMPA — The seller agreed to a meeting in Ybor City with the Alabama fan seeking a ticket to that night's College Football Playoff national championship hours before the game.

But as scalper Joseph Steven Escalera began the transaction, his customer's two brothers snuck up from behind. One pinned Escalera to his chair, pinching a nerve between his neck and shoulder while holding a long, cold object to the back of his head. The other two took his shoes and socks, as well as six tickets to that night's game they found tucked in Escalera's waistband.

When Tampa police arrived, they arrested Escalera.

The brothers had called police to tell them the same scalper had sold them two counterfeit tickets to the game the day before — at $1,000 apiece. So they pulled a bit of fakery themselves, using a different email and phone number to arrange a second purchase from Escalera.

It took police 10 minutes to arrive. It's a good thing they came quickly, said Bryant Gentry, 29, one of the brothers, all from Louisiana. The only thing keeping Escalera in his chair was the Coca-Cola bottle pressed to his head.

"All these people had gathered around watching and I kept yelling, 'This guy sold us fake tickets, we're not robbing him,' " said Gentry, who had hoped to be spending that evening cheering on the University of Alabama as it took on Clemson University.

"The only way this weekend could have been better was if we caught the bad guy and our football team won," Gentry said.

Escalera wasn't the only one accused of taking advantage of fans hoping to score tickets to Monday's game, police said. Tampa police arrested six others for selling or attempting to sell counterfeit tickets, and have issued an arrest warrant for an eighth, spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.

He cautioned that the brothers' sting operation wasn't something police would advise.

"While this case ultimately was resolved peacefully, as a general rule we discourage crime victims from taking matters into their own hands," Hegarty said. "Both the victims and the suspect could have been injured, or worse.

"They did the right thing by calling Tampa police, and we were able to arrive quickly to take the suspect into custody."

The brothers found Escalera, a 20-year-old from Orlando, through an ad he placed on Craigslist. There were a "gazillion" ads from ticket brokers placed on the site before the game, but Escalera's was one of only a handful claiming to be for sale by owner, Gentry said.

He and his oldest brother met Escalera outside a bar in downtown Tampa on Sunday night and purchased two tickets, planning to find a third outside the stadium. The ticket seller was friendly and believable, but the older brother still took a selfie with Escalera "just in case," Gentry said.

When they arrived back at their hotel, the brothers began examining the tickets. They looked like those they had seen online, with gold foil edges and a picture of the Tampa skyline, but the barcode was on the back instead of the front and there was a strange blotch on one.

"We came to the conclusion we had been burned, and we're blessed enough with good jobs where we could replace that income, but we started thinking about all the other people he was probably taking advantage of and it made us mad," Gentry said. "What if some little kid's hopes of going to the game were dashed?"

So they arranged the second purchase, careful to conceal they were repeat customers.

After studying the picture they had taken with him the night before, Gentry waited across the street as one brother posed as a customer at a table outside the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. and the other kept watch from the Centro Ybor balcony.

By the time Tampa police arrested Escalera and took the brothers' statements, the three had to rush back to their hotel to catch the kickoff from a lobby TV, Gentry said. They watched the game with other fans who weren't able to snag a ticket, and eventually had some pizzas delivered.

They did not get back the $2,000 they gave to Escalera.

Still, what police recovered that day confirmed to the brothers that their time was well spent, they said. Not only were the six tickets they found on Escalera counterfeit, but 24 additional fake tickets were found in his hotel room, along with $1,700 cash.

"The loss of the game still hurts, but we got him and maybe that stopped someone else from losing money," Gentry said.

Escalera was still in the Hills­borough County jail Thursday night on $2,500 bail. He faces charges of fraudulent possession of admission tickets and grand theft.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

Comments
In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputiesí actions justified

In federal trial, jury finds Hernando deputiesí actions justified

TAMPA ó Michael Bratt told a story.He said that Hernando County sheriffís deputies attacked him in his home early one morning eight years ago, beat him severely on his front lawn, and continued the assault as they took him to a hospital.But another s...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

Rays trade Alex Colome and Denard Span to Mariners for prospects

The Rays made a major trade Friday afternoon, sending All-Star closer Alex Colome and OF Denard Span to the Mariners.The return is two minor-leaguers, RHP Andrew Moore and RHP Tommy Romero. The Rays also sent cash to the Mariners.Span, a Tampa produc...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

For starters: Sergio Romo on mound tonight as Rays open series against Orioles

By JOEY JOHNSTONTimes CorrespondentST. PETERSBURG — For openers, the Rays will use RHP Sergio Romo, the 35-year-old career reliever, as tonight's starter against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.Romo is making his third career "sta...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Last year three members of the 69ers Motorcycle Club gang were implicated in the execution of a rival gang leader in the middle of rush hour traffic in Pasco County.Now those three and two other 69ers members have been indicted on federal charges tha...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Itís human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA ó Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snivelyís Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Raccoon bites bicyclist, now the Health Department is looking for the victim

TAMPA ó A bicyclist in the Palm River area was bitten by a raccoon Friday morning, the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County said.Now the department is concerned the animal had rabies and is searching for the bicyclist."While it is impo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Meet your unwelcome Memorial Day guest: Subtropical Storm Alberto

Meet your unwelcome Memorial Day guest: Subtropical Storm Alberto

It has a name.Subtropical Storm Alberto is crawling into the Gulf of Mexico, an unwelcome guest arriving a week before the official start of hurricane season.The system, which became the first named storm of the year Friday, could bring five inches o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Mom service dog has puppies in Tampa airport, while dad service dog looks on

Mom service dog has puppies in Tampa airport, while dad service dog looks on

TAMPA — Travelers killing time at Tampa International Airport’s Gasparilla Bar got an unexpected show Friday when a dog gave birth to eight puppies near Gate F81. The 2-year-old golden retriever, Eleanor Rigby, owner Diane Van Atter, and...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Updated: 3 hours ago