Prior to the Nov. 3 election, New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco assiduously pursued a years-long investigation into corruption in the sale of tickets to theatre shows, concerts and sporting events, issuing periodic reports and generally raising the visibility of the problem. Now that Vacco has finally conceded defeat, after a month of byzantine legal challenges to the close election, that investigation's future is in question.
"Whether a report will be issued, or if the process will go forward is not clear," said David Corvette (Dec. 16), spokesman for the Attorney General's office. Corvette did add, however, that the report on the inquiry -- once promised for September -- will not be released during the remainder of Vacco's term, which ends in January 1999.
Vacco lost the election -- one of the closest in the country -- by a little more than 26,000 votes to the Democrat challenger Eliot L. Spitzer. The Republican did not accept defeat easily. Once all the ballots were counted, he questioned the findings on a variety of legal grounds, asserting widespread voter fraud. At various times, he claimed many votes had been made by illegal immigrants and the deceased. Last week, in an extraordinary move, he petitioned the city for the use of the police force to canvas the city and confirm the residences of thousands of voters. When his request was denied, he had his staff undertake the task. On Dec. 15, the State Supreme Court dismissed his allegations.
The ticket inquiry made news on July 28 when it was reported that several Broadway productions, including Cabaret , were under investigation. The State was looking into box office scams, in particular a form of abuse called "ice," in which box office personnel sell tickets to scalpers at exorbitant prices. Those inflated fees are then shouldered by the public.
Though news articles mentioned only Cabaret by name, Corvette emphasized that the Roundabout musical wasn't the primary focus of the investigation. "Virtually every theatre is subject to our scrutiny," he said at the time. "The Roundabout is by no means the only theatre. It just happens that news about it surfaced first. There is nothing unique about the Roundabout. It has not been singled out." Roundabout Artistic Director Todd Haimes flatly denied any wrongdoing, telling Variety, "We welcome an investigation. The [Roundabout] theatre doesn't in any way condone that. It's as horrifying for us as it is for the consumers if that's true."
Despite all the saber rattling, Corvette told Playbill On-Line, "We never expected any indictments. The report would make legislative proposals and detail the process of ticket fraud."
Corvette was uncertain as to whether Spitzer would continue the inquiry, adding that it was his impression that the ticket matter was not a top priority for the Democrats. Spitzer's office did not return a phone call asking for comment.
So far, charges connected to the inquiry have involved entertainment organizations outside the theatre industry. Joseph Nekola, the former manager of the Jones Beach Theater, a concert venue, pleaded guilty of stealing more than 8,000 tickets; and the owners of Tickets on Request, a Manhattan-based company, were charged with hiking prices on tickets to sporting events and concerts.
-- By Robert Simonson