Sticky Ticket Wickets

The practice by some concert venues of allocating a number of tickets for use by local officials has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years and, particularly in the case of publicly owned buildings, sometimes raise contentious ethical questions.

In two currently raging cases, the number of freebies as well as the amount of money they represent, are prime examples – and have drawn the attention of local law enforcement agencies.

The Bernalillo County, N.M., Sheriff’s Department has launched a criminal investigation of “giftgate” – as local media have dubbed the discovery that commissioners allegedly helped themselves to $80,000 worth of tickets and at least 26 free parking passes at Hard Rock Casino Albuquerque Presents The Pavilion.

The 15,000-capacity Albuquerque shed is owned by the county but leased and managed by Live Nation. It’s not clear there was ever a written agreement to distribute free tickets and local officials insist that Live Nation expected to be paid for tickets used by county employees, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Yet an audit revealed a hefty discrepancy, and County Commission Chairwoman Maggie Stebbins told the paper a “handshake deal” had existed for years – starting with a dozen tickets and, eventually, adding about 20 more plus a VIP box.

The investigation is continuing, with county attorney Jeff Landers maintaining no ethical regulations were violated. A spokeswoman for Live Nation couldn’t be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, police in Columbus, Ga., were brought in to aid an investigation into allegations of a sticky fingered former Civic Center director and whether a concert promoter is owed money from tickets taken by retired director Dale Hester.

Promoter Mike Blackwell recently filed a claim against the city of Columbus, citing an audit of ticket records for shows he promoted in the Civic Center, according to the Ledger-Enquirer. The records reportedly indicate Hester was allotted a specific number of complimentary tickets, but that the actual number taken was “excessive.”

Officials insist the probe has not risen to the level of a criminal investigation.

But state law does set a threshold of $100 in gifts before public officials must report them, according to the paper. “As long as you don’t go down there and be a pig about it and start asking for a bunch of tickets that exceed the $100 limit, you’re OK,” auditor John Redmond told the paper. He added that officials commonly have access to two tickets to Civic Center events as a “perk,” and he saw no problem in the audit.

Blackwell, however, has filed a claim saying civic center managers improperly removed $26,000 worth of tickets from the box office, far more than the value of 84 total complimentary tickets promised the city for each event.

The promoter also claims Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson knew about it. In rejecting Blackwell’s claim against the city, Tomlinson alleges Blackwell also knew about it and had tacitly agreed to give Hester an extra allotment of tickets in exchange for lower rent on the Columbus Civic Center.

Results of the investigation won’t be known until after an audit is completed. Blackwell couldn’t be reached and his attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.