Sundance scammer busted
A Sundance Film Festival box-office worker pleaded guilty on Tuesday to orchestrating a scam during the January festival, admitting he reprinted movie tickets and then, according to his attorney, sold the sought-after tickets.
Jon M. Levin, 37, from Salt Lake City pleaded guilty to a class A misdemeanor count of attempted theft, according to a Third District Court clerk. He was ordered to pay Sundance $1,700 in restitution and pay $500 in court costs.
Levin’s plea will be held for one year. If he complies with his sentence, the case may be dismissed. If he does not, a judge may sentence him to one year in the Summit County Jail and fine him $2,500.
The misdemeanor charge was reduced from a third-degree felony count of theft. The more serious charge could have carried a sentence of up to five years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
"He accepted responsibility," Levin’s Salt Lake City attorney, Greg Skordas, said.
Skordas said Levin earned between $500 and $600 on the reprinted tickets. Levin reprinted 170 tickets valued at $10 each, prosecutors said.
"He sold them to make money," Skordas said, adding that Levin saw the scam as an opportunity and that Sundance officials were "rightfully offended."
Skordas said the plea bargain was based on Levin not having a criminal history. He said he was negotiating with the police and prosecutors before formal charges were filed.
Sundance spokeswoman Irene Cho said Levin was hired as a temporary staffer, meaning he was paid for his work as opposed to the scores of volunteers Sundance hires for each festival. She believes 2006 was Levin’s first year working for the festival.
Sundance fired Levin on Jan. 27, at the start of the festival’s closing weekend, Cho believes, after the scam was noticed.
In a court filing, Park City Police Department detective Mary Ford said Levin reprinted the tickets from Jan. 23 until the day he was fired. In the filing, Ford said Levin was seen with the tickets and he offered to sell them to his co-workers at Sundance.
Cho said Sundance’s ticketing system noticed the irregularities and that the computers keep an audit trail of each ticket that is sold. She was unsure what films the tickets were for.
The court filing said shortly after Levin properly sold a ticket he reprinted "the same ticket multiple times." An office manager discovered the duplicate tickets afterward and the duplicates were traced back to Levin, the filing said.
Levin’s scheme highlights the demand for Sundance tickets even though he apparently did not sell them for above face value. Even as Sundance has provided additional screening rooms during the festival, especially the Racquet Club, there remains a dearth of tickets, particularly for the star-laden premiers.
Festival-goers try to score tickets at an online box office before Sundance starts, in pre-festival packages and at the box office at the Gateway Center on Heber Avenue during the festival.
Numerous screenings, however, are sold out, leaving people with the choice of standing in wait-list lines outside the theaters, sometimes for hours, where an unknown number of tickets are usually available. Recently, people have started selling Sundance tickets at online auction houses like eBay, frequently commanding prices many times the face value.
The festival, America’s premier market of independent films, is increasingly popular with movie fans and people who want to be part of the Sundance scene. The 2006 festival is believed to be the busiest ever. Well-known films like "The Blair Witch project," "sex lies and videotape" and "Super Size Me" debuted at Sundance.
Augustus Chin, the Summit County prosecutor who brought the charges against Levin, said the scheme was not shocking since ticket brokering is a big business.
"It’s not unusual to see when someone tries to take advantage of an opportunity," Chin said, adding, "I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened again."
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