For the three 2006 World Series games in St. Louis against the Detroit Tigers, the St. Louis Police Department assembled a World Series Scalping Detail from the narcotics/vice team comprised of one lieutenant, three sergeants, and 18 detectives. Their job was to arrest any scalpers selling tickets above face value, a crime in Missouri at the time.
The detail seized 98 tickets from 44 arrests. Of those 98 tickets, 34 of them—or 35 percent—were given by the arresting officers to family or friends, who then used the tickets themselves. Eight of the 18 detectives on the detail re-appropriated tickets. Confiscated scalped tickets were used for all three home games, often mere hours after the arrests and seizures.
Recently released documents made available by the ACLU after years of legal battles with the police department reveal details into how the operation functioned and was ultimately discovered.
At 4:15 PM on the day of Game 5, Detective Michael Ehnes arrested Eric Johnson for scalping. Ehnes seized from Johnson two tickets in section 132, great seats to watch the eventual World Series-clinching win, along with $2,600 in cash—for which they refused to give him a receipt—according to Johnson's complaint. Johnson subsequently overheard the officer on a phone asking his wife if she'd be interested in using the tickets for that evening's game. The tickets were scanned for entry into Busch Stadium roughly two hours later, at 6:24 PM, plenty of time before the 7:30 PM first pitch. After the game, the tickets were then returned to Ehnes, who brought them back to the evidence locker, as all the other officers did, so as to not arouse any suspicion. When Johnson was released from custody, he claims he was only given back $539.
The sad reality of American policing oversight is that none of this likely would have ever come to light if Johnson hadn't overheard that call. Johnson's complaint triggered an internal affairs investigation that lasted more than a year. Proving the tickets had been used was hardly a challenge: every ticket scanned and used is logged in the Cardinals' internal system, common practice amongst sports teams these days. It's unclear whether the officers involved knew of this practice and simply thought no one would ever look into it, or were oblivious.
It's difficult to believe the officers' claims they did not seize the tickets simply to give them to family and friends given that the tickets were often used in a matter of a few hours. Also, the high percentage of tickets that were used after being seized also seems to indicate some type of prior planning.
In addition, the Internal Affairs investigation revealed a litany of procedural errors and mishandling of evidence within the narcotics unit, including keeping cash in amounts less than $2,000 in the department's safe for extended periods of time before being turned over to the evidence locker.
More than anything else, the ticket broker scandal illustrates the various unintended consequences of outlawing scalpers and secondary markets in general. The very next year, Missouri legalized flipping tickets for profit, much to the dismay of brokers. "You made more money when it was illegal — it wasn't even remotely close," Tony Green, a ticket broker for 20 years, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "We knew all the cops, so they wouldn't bust us." By outlawing scalpers—ostensibly a measure to protect ticket-buyers from predatory pricing—the chosen few brokers who remained in business could jack up their prices even further, while the cops would give them protection and seize tickets for their own personal use under the guise of protecting the consumer.
Still, asset forfeiture remains a major problem among American law enforcement, in which officers seizing cash, vehicles, or real estate on specious grounds happens all too often. The internal affairs investigation didn't address Johnson's accusation regarding the seized cash, but this has been a well-documented problem in another criminalized market: drugs. Almost a billion dollars of worth of cash, cars, boats, real estate, and other property is forfeited to the federal government every year, according to a PBS Frontline report.
The ticket scandal illustrates one more flaw in American policing too: slaps on the wrist for officer violations of ethics and procedure. Although the St. Louis Police Board of Commissioners stated that their punishment of demotions, two-week suspensions, and reductions in pay was "not a slap on the wrist," it's hard to imagine any other profession in which brazen theft while on the job wouldn't result in a firing, at least. Perhaps it's also worth noting the maximum sentence for illegally selling tickets in Missouri was six months in jail.
Correction: a previous version of this article stated the eight officers faced punishments ranging from written notices to 22 days' disciplinary leave. The article has been corrected to note they received suspensions, demotions, and reductions in pay.