From sporting events to sold-out concerts, D.C. streets often buzz with monstrous crowds near the Verizon Center. Sidewalks teem with fans, police…and these guys.
"They're four rows right from the stage," a scalper told the News4 I-Team during an undercover investigation.
At the Verizon Center, ticket scalpers don't hang in the shadows but stand right out in the open. And that's raising questions about how nearby police officers respond during big events.
At a recent sold-out concert, multiple guys hit up a News4 I-Team producer while he wore a hidden camera.
"You gotta go a little bit higher," a second scalper told the producer.
A third scalper then said, "The bank machine is over there."
A fourth scalper even spelled it out: "F-L-O-O-R! Floor."
“$200?” the producer asked.
“$200 each, yes," the scalper responded.
They even offered to escort him to his seats. "I'm not trying to make, not trying to make no money," the first scalper explained. "Plus, I'll walk you, plus I'll walk you inside, walk you inside."
It is illegal to sell, or even buy, tickets on D.C. streets - something Alexis Charoensiri and Gabby Druckenmiller didn't know.
The 15-year-old Bieber fanatics gave a guy $500 for two tickets right before Bieber’s recent D.C. show started. "We figured it was a good price," Gabby said.
But according to Alexis, when they tried to get inside the concert, the woman scanning their tickets said, "The tickets aren’t real. They’re counterfeit."
Distraught, the teens approached a Metropolitan Police Department officer outside the Verizon Center for help, something News4 I-Team cameras happened to catch that night.
Alexis said the officer was not helpful. “He was like, ‘No, I can't help you. That's illegal,'" Alexis said. "And he's like, ‘I could arrest you right now for doing that.’ And then I was like, ‘There's people selling tickets all around the area.’"
You can get in trouble for buying scalped tickets, MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said.
"You're not allowed to buy or sell in a public space," Lanier said. "Now, that's not the appropriate answer to give a 15-year-old girl who just got ripped off."
Lanier said policing scalping is a balancing act between keeping officers on crowd control versus other enforcement.
But, she admitted the MPD officer approached by Alexis and Gabby should have taken action because she calls scalping “a huge problem.”
"We send teams of officers out to go after scalpers randomly,” Lanier said. “It's not every single event because I don't have the luxury."
MPD made at least 25 arrests for scalping last year. Anyone who is caught buying or selling tickets on D.C. streets can be fined $300 and face possible jail time.
Alexis said the night of their incident, “There was tons of cops and they weren't doing anything about it."
The News4 I-Team caught the same thing at a recent hockey game, where it was hard not to notice the scalpers hanging out on the corners and at Metro exits.
A scalper walked up to News4 producer and asked, "You need tickets?"
As the I-Team walked a single block, five different scalpers approached at the same time.
When the I-Team producer told a scalper he didn't have any cash, the guy told him he would come down to $60.
“We're all working together," a third scalper said. "I'm going to give you the best deal."
All the while, officers stood nearby or sat in their vehicles.
In response, Lanier said, “If somebody sees that where an officer is standing complacent, not doing something at all, not engaging in crowd management and there is scalping going on and the officer doesn't take action, that in itself is inappropriate. They have to take action. That I would have a problem with."
After our interview, MPD did its own test to see how officers reacted to someone complaining about scalping.
MPD reports it did find officers not responding correctly and plans to increase enforcement around future big events.