It took an undercover investigation, a juvenile informant and a brief foot chase for police to nab their target Monday: a man accused of selling fake State Fair tickets.
The arrest of Richard J. Hazeltine III, 39, of St. Paul, was the second of a suspected ticket counterfeiter in recent days. One legitimate ticket reseller estimates that hundreds of phony tickets have been sold, and ticket counterfeiting is one reason that the State Fair might start using high-tech ticket scanners connected by buried fiber-optic cables.
Three fair employees visited the Delaware State Fair earlier this summer to examine its ticket scanning system, said Brienna Schuette, fair spokeswoman.
"It's something we're actually looking into," Schuette said. "We have a company coming out to study it this year."
Schuette had no estimate for the number of fake tickets sold each year or how much money the fair loses as a result.
Hazeltine's arrest came just two days after a Brooklyn Park man was arrested Saturday on the accusation of selling counterfeit fair tickets for $10 each to people waiting to board an express bus at Northtown Mall.
One victim from Andover knew the man and contacted police when she arrived at the fair and found the ticket was fake.
Then, on Monday night, St. Paul police took a boy into custody after he was seen selling fake tickets on Midway Parkway near the fair's main gate.
The boy said someone named Ricky gave him the tickets and told him he would make $2 for every ticket he sold for $10.
Undercover officers helped the boy arrange a meeting with Ricky at a McDonald's restaurant near the intersection of Snelling and University Avenues. Ricky didn't show. Two more attempts to set up a meeting failed.
St. Paul police officers working nearby saw someone who matched Ricky's description getting into a cab. They stopped the cab and after a brief foot chase, took Hazeltine into custody.
He had $14 and six counterfeit State Fair tickets with him, along with some recent purchases: a 10-pack of socks, a bottle of vodka, two packs of cigarettes, a box of Little Debbie snack cakes and a meal from McDonald's, police said.
Hazeltine told police he got the tickets from someone else and had convinced two boys he saw selling water to State Fair visitors that they could make more money selling his tickets, according to police records. The boy was released to his mother by St. Paul police.
Hazeltine was issued a citation and was taken to Ramsey County jail to be held on unrelated felony warrants.
Jason Gabbert, who sells tickets legally, makes a few dollars purchasing tickets for $9 at Cub Foods to resell them for $11 at the fair's main gate. A fair ticket normally costs $12.
Gabbert, who has to get a peddler's license from the city of St. Paul, said he was tipped off to a pair of guys selling counterfeits Saturday when he heard they were selling them for $9, too little to make any profit from real tickets. He said the fakes were very good, but the color was slightly off and the lines along the bar code were fuzzy.
"The public had no reason to suspect anything was amiss, and ticket takers had no reason not to accept the tickets," he said.
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747