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2 held in scam of Super Bowl tickets
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001
They dove through motel trash bins, searching for shreds of receipts bearing motel guests' credit card numbers.
Then they used that information to illegally buy and sell at least 10 Super Bowl tickets in Pinellas County in the last week, according to sheriff's investigators. The scheme was one leg of an elaborate set of scams investigators say was performed by a group of out-of-state con artists.
Detectives on Wednesday arrested two of the group at a motel in Indian Rocks Beach. A third person remained at large late Thursday.
Investigators said the group used the stolen credit card numbers to buy at least 10 Super Bowl tickets at $1,700 a pop from brokers. They sold six of the tickets this week for $1,000 each at Gators Cafe and Saloon on Treasure Island, and probably have hawked more, investigators said.
Detectives said they believe the group ran a similar scam in Nashville around the time of an NFL playoff game there Jan. 7. The FBI has expressed interest in the case, and investigators expect the NFL will be calling soon, sheriff's spokesman Greg Tita said.
Donald Stenger, 37, of Peoria, Ill., and his girlfriend, Christina Atkinson, 23, a Canadian, were being held at the Pinellas County jail Thursday evening. Stenger is charged with grand theft and credit card fraud, while Atkinson is charged with being a principle to those crimes.
Stenger's brother, Michael Stenger, 50, bolted in a 1982 beige Oldsmobile Toronado with a Nevada tag soon after his brother was arrested. Detectives are seeking an arrest warrant and suspect he is heading to Key West, Tita said.
Tita said the Super Bowl tickets are legitimate, but the sheriff's office is asking people who bought them from the Stenger brothers to come forward.
The buyers "are not in any trouble," Tita said.
The victims in this case are the brokers who are out $1,700 per ticket. None of the ripped-off brokers had been identified as of late Thursday, he said.
The probe into the tickets sprouted from another investigation into the group that involved motorized scooters.
After the trio came to Pinellas County about 10 days ago, they stole the credit card numbers from the trash at area motels and used them to order scooters over the phone from distributors across the country, Tita said.
They had the scooters, valued at about $1,500 each, delivered to local motels, then sold them at local motel parking lots and shops for about $500 each, said investigators, who are asking anyone who bought a scooter from the group to come forward.
"They had a pretty elaborate scheme," Tita said.
The brothers sold at least 50 scooters before a distributor in Tacoma, Wash., received an order from Pinellas County and noticed the credit card number was unauthorized. The distributor called authorities.
The order was to be delivered to Emerald Shores Inn, 1912 Gulf Blvd. in Indian Rocks Beach.
Detectives in Tacoma contacted investigators here. The distributor in Tacoma agreed to ship empty boxes to the Indian Rocks hotel, and detectives decided they would set up a sting, Tita said.
Meanwhile, Emerald Shores Inn owner Debbie Becker received a phone call from a man who identified himself as Bobby Watson, an alias Tita said the Stenger brothers used during their schemes.
The man told Becker that his boss had accidentally shipped packages to her motel, and he wondered if she could sign for them. Becker, thinking the man was legitimate, agreed.
"He said "Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, my boss got the wrong address," Becker said Thursday. "He was real nice."
An hour later, a detective came to her motel and told her about the scam. Becker agreed to cooperate with investigators and sign for the boxes the next day.
The empty boxes arrived at the motel about 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. The Stenger brothers arrived about 12:30 p.m. and were greeted by two detectives, Becker said.
"They tried to run, but the office is kind of small and they didn't get too far," Becker said.
Detectives searched Atkinson's room at Skyline Motel and Apartments in Madeira Beach, where they found stacks of credit card information and reservation receipts, along with Super Bowl and motorized scooter information from the Internet, Tita said.
That's when they learned of the Super Bowl connection, he said.
Tita said detectives didn't have enough evidence to arrest Michael Stenger until they found the evidence in Atkinson's motel room. By that time he was gone.
The total number of victims is unknown. .
"I saw a stack of stuff in the room," he said. "This could be big."
Anyone with information on this case can call Pinellas Sheriff's Detective Daryl Cooperrider at (727) 582-6443.
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