1. News

Tampa could pay $65,000 on false arrest claim stemming from Super Bowl ticket-scalping

Published Dec. 18, 2012

TAMPA — At $2,400 each, the tickets to Super Bowl XLIII were an expensive proposition for the three Pittsburgh Steelers fans, but they could be even more costly for Tampa taxpayers.

City Hall is offering to pay $65,000 to a New Hampshire woman who complains she was falsely arrested, along with her ticket-broker husband, on charges of selling counterfeit tickets hours before the championship in 2009.

The NFL later confirmed that the tickets were indeed real, so the sale could have gone through. (Thanks to a law the Legislature passed in 2006, ticket-scalping is legal in Florida.)

Charges were dropped against James DiZoglio, 48, and Svetlana Savacenco, 28, who sued the city.

A federal judge threw out most of DiZoglio's claims, saying that after an NFL-issued scanner failed to verify the tickets' authenticity, police had "arguable probable cause" to arrest him for selling fakes.

But the city has offered to settle with Savacenco, who was merely sitting in the car while her husband haggled with the Steelers fans. The City Council is scheduled to consider the settlement Thursday.

The court case sheds light on a free-wheeling trade in which ticket brokers travel from city to city, following events like NASCAR, the Final Four, the Masters and the World Series.

"It's a pretty nomadic life," said DiZoglio's attorney, Hugh Koerner of Hollywood, Fla.

In 2009, the Times reported that up to 300 independent ticket sellers, known in the business as "hustlers" or "diggers," converged on Tampa for the Super Bowl. On game day, scores of men outside Raymond James Stadium with cardboard signs saying "I need tickets" were diggers looking to buy and resell tickets.

Tickets for the Super Bowl had face values of $800 to $1,000, but at kickoff they were selling from $1,800 to $2,350 apiece.

Arriving in Tampa early in the week, DiZoglio put ads on Craigs­list, talked to bartenders, hung around hotels and gave his card to concierges.

"Concierges are our big source," he said in a deposition. "They could say, 'Hey, I got a customer here, you know, that has some Super Bowl tickets. Would you be interested?' "

On game day, a man DiZoglio knew at the Taste of the NFL fundraiser offered to sell him four tickets directly behind the Steelers' bench for $6,000. He bought them and soon ran into three Pittsburgh fans in black-and-gold jerseys.

DiZoglio and Savacenco gave them a ride to a spot near the stadium, and the three men pulled together $6,600 — $600 short of his asking price.

To Tampa police Cpl. Edward Croissant, the men huddled around the car "looked like a drug deal."

So Croissant, who was on bike patrol, rolled up and asked what was going on. DiZoglio said he was selling tickets and had the appropriate city and county licenses to do so.

Croissant asked to see the tickets, told DiZoglio not to move and took them to Officer Michael Harrell, who had a scanner designed to detect an invisible security feature in the tickets.

Testing DiZoglio's tickets, the scanner light turned red, indicating a problem. The NFL's director of investigative services testified that some tickets might have to be run two or three times to get an accurate reading, but the recollections of Croissant and Harrell diverged on whether Harrell ran the tickets once or twice.

While DiZoglio insisted that the tickets were genuine, Croissant arrested him.

"Just because he's telling me they're real doesn't mean it's real," Croissant said in a deposition. "I tried to verify the ticket was real by calling for the box."

Meanwhile, the three Steelers fans never did get into the game.

Their cash in their pockets, they went to a bar and watched Pittsburgh win. Until Monday, one hadn't heard that the tickets were authentic after all.

"That makes me feel better," said Jason Tetlow, a 40-year-old commercial litigation lawyer from Pittsburgh. "They looked pretty damned good to us."