St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Scams net seats far from game

Sneaking into the Super Bowl, selling fake tickets and freeing visitors of their cash earn several an inside look at the jail.


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001

TAMPA -- With thousands of fans who flocked to Tampa for the Super Bowl came the grifters, pickpockets, scamsters and shills police say are the seamier side of a major national event.

There, too, were people who would do just about anything to get inside the stadium.

Police say Massachusetts residents Paul T. Giardina, 38, and Todd J. Terpak, 37, came in costume. Wearing hospital scrubs, the pair tried to walk into the stadium during the game claiming to be paramedics, according to an arrest report.

Security guards who didn't buy it turned them away, only to later catch them crawling behind some forklifts, trying to sneak in. Each was charged with grand theft for the $325 a ticket would have cost.

"There was definitely some ingenuity being used," said Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Dean Tsourakis, who watched the glum parade of game-related arrestees on video court from the jail Monday morning. There were about 30 more defendants than a normal weekend might bring. "What did Maxwell Smart used to say? If only they could use it for niceness instead of evil."

Fred Morgan, 40, of North Carolina was accused of buying a jacket from a security guard to get him past the gates. In separate incidents, Daniel Stroup, 43, of Maryland and John B. Robb, 38, of New York were charged after police say they tried to use fake media passes for admission.

"There are groups of opportunists that travel to capitalize on that many people with large amounts of cash," said Tampa police Detective Bill Todd, an undercover veteran who worked the game Sunday. "We talked to some yesterday that were planning to go to Daytona after this for the 500."

Patrick Morrison, 29, of Texas was accused of trying to entice an undercover cop into betting $100 on a board game in a stadium restroom. Outside on Himes Avenue, Ronald Cromwell, 36, of California was accused of trying to get people to plunk down cash to guess which bottle cap concealed a pea in a shell game. Both were charged with the relatively rare misdemeanor of running "games of chance by lot."

Outside the stadium during the game, a fellow approached Todd, who was in street clothes.

"You wanna get in?" he asked.

"Of course," the undercover detective replied.

For $300, Todd could score a T-shirt and credential identifying him as a Super Bowl volunteer working the game. He was led to a nearby portable toilet where he could discreetly change his shirt. Instead, Terry Zachary, 33, of Georgia was arrested.

Todd said Sunday's events were probably 10 times what he sees working a Tampa Bay Buccaneer game.

"The level of the scams increased probably because the profitability increased," he said. "Nobody would pay $300 to do that at a regular season game that I know of."

Two Maryland men paid $4,800 for what they believed were two Super Bowl tickets in a deal cut at Tampa Bay Center mall.

But when they opened the envelope, they found tickets to the NFL Experience, worth about $10 each, Todd said. The sellers were long gone.

"But it wasn't their lucky day, because we did get them," he said. "The victims spotted them the following day and alerted us. They were hanging out at a Shell station, doing the same thing." They were arrested and charged with fraud and theft. Their names were not available Monday.

"One of the guys had an outstanding warrant from Dade County for doing the same thing at Super Bowl two years ago," Todd said.

- Sue Carlton can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or carlton@sptimes.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.