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Counterfeit tickets to cost Field Days thousands

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Posted on October 13, 2014 |
By Evan Johnson



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MIDDLEBURY ATTORNEY AND ADDISON County Fair and Field Days Board Chair Benj Deppman sits behind stacks of counterfeit tickets that were used to gain entry to the fair this past August. The fake tickets account for around $12,000 in lost revenue. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

NEW HAVEN — In the final days of the Addison County Fair and Field Days this past August, Ken Button, one of the fair’s directors, was counting the tickets that had been collected that week. He was trying to get a sense of how many people had come through the gates. On the table in front of him lay stacks of exhibitor day passes and season passes arranged by type of ticket.

But when he looked closely at the stacks of tickets, something didn’t look right.

“I had been counting and bundling them all week and it wasn’t until later in the week that I realized when they were stacked up, they didn’t line up the same way,” he said.

Some of the day passes and season passes appeared to be poorly reproduced with a similar paper and ink. The season passes, valid for the entire week, required the holder to tear off one ticket per day, yet Button observed some of the tickets lacked a perforated edge, where the holder should have ripped them off the card.

It was clear — someone had been passing counterfeit tickets at 2014 Field Days.

Button has been working the ticketing office for Addison County’s Fair and Field Days for a dozen years and this was something new.

“This is the first year we caught it,” he said. “Who knows if this has happened before? I don’t want to know.”

The revelation came the first year that Field Days staff had reorganized their ticketing procedure to include distribution of bracelets at the entrance. The way it worked was tickets were purchased (either at a kiosk near the gate or beforehand at outlets around the county) and then the tickets were exchanged at the gate for bracelets, which fairgoers would wear as proof that they had paid to get in. Gatekeepers collected the tickets in buckets over the course of the Aug. 5-9 fair.

When the directors tried to reconcile the number of tickets collected with the number of bracelets given out, they noticed discrepancies in the size, shape and ink quality on the tickets.

The news was the second and more sophisticated case of counterfeit tickets at this year’s fair. On the Tuesday of the weeklong event, the directors and staff were alerted to very poor quality copies of tickets being presented at the entrance. After the ticketing staff at the gates notified authorities, the Addison County sheriff conducted interviews with four people, but no citations were issued and individuals presenting the reproductions paid the full admission price. 

Sherriff Don Keeler said the incident was the first time counterfeit tickets at the fair had been brought to his attention.

The more sophisticated counterfeit tickets were dismissed as separate runs made at the printer.

Field Days directors contacted the state police straightaway about the second, larger batch of counterfeits, but apparently police did not alert the public because they did not want to jeopardize their investigation.Trooper Kyle Young, the investigating officer with the Vermont State Police, was not available to comment late last week.

“We delayed an announcement initially because we thought if a press release could have harmed an investigation, we wouldn’t have wanted that,” Field Days board member Benj Deppman said. “We notified the police right away and then let them handle the investigation from there.”

Last week, after consulting with the Vermont State Police, the organization went public with the information.

“It doesn’t sound like there are any new leads in the case,” Deppman said.

OTHER FAIR PHONIES

Field Days was not the only fair this summer that experienced a rash of bogus tickets. At the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex later in August, ticket checkers at the gate caught some 1,000 counterfeit tickets. Essex police arrested Jeannie Morrill, 32, of Burlington after she was caught selling the counterfeits outside of the Exposition fairgrounds and cited her with false pretenses or tokens. The tickets were produced using a photocopier and a similar color and stock of paper. Chris Ashby, director of communications and marketing at the Expo, said that’s just how many they were able to catch.

“Exactly how many were used, we aren’t able to know,” he said.

But at the Addison County fairgrounds in New Haven, with the collected counterfeit tickets stacked on the table, the financial toll of the fakes could be calculated. Directors counted approximately 500 day exhibitor passes, valued at $8 each, and approximately 200 season passes, valued at $40 each.

In total, the counterfeit tickets cost the nonprofit almost $12,000.

“The directors want whoever did this to know that they’re not going to get away with it again,” Deppman said. “If they got away with it this time and they’re going to get away with it, then so be it, we can’t do much about that. But we want them to know that we are going to be implementing measures and if we didn’t catch them this time, then next year we will.”

Next year, Deppman said, the fair will emphasize better communication between the printer who produces the tickets and members of the New Haven Fire Department, who check them at the gate.

“Part of the solution would be to educate ourselves on what to look for when the tickets are coming in,” Deppman said. “For example, knowing that there aren’t two versions of tickets — there’s only one. The fire department guys who are handling the tickets at the booths should have some advanced time with the tickets before the fair begins.”

The fair will also look to print more sophisticated tickets that will feature technical features like watermarks or bar codes to make reproducing tickets more difficult. However, the newer tickets will come at a much higher cost — likely double that of what they usually cost to print, Deppman said.

Whether or not this cost would mean an increase in ticket prices or vendor fees, Deppman was unsure.

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet and we would like to hold the price steady,” he said. “But $12,000 is a lot of revenue for us not to receive. It’s a lot of money. We’re a nonprofit and the directors are all volunteers. Any money we raise we put back into the fair and the fairgrounds.”

Ultimately, Deppman said he would like to see the fair continue to be a source for affordable family entertainment.

“We do our best to run a reasonably priced event that Addison County people of any income level can attend and enjoy the fair on multiple days. We don’t want people to feel that they can only afford to go one day during the few days that we run the fair. We’re hesitant to raise the prices too much because we want the fair to be fun for everybody.” 

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