Two tour companies could have their licenses revoked after six people were charged last week in an alleged scheme to resell tens of thousands of dollars worth of stolen tickets for attractions in Niagara Falls State Park.
Two state park workers, a tour bus operator and workers at the Blue Water and Over the Falls tour companies were among those charged after a monthlong investigation by State Police and State Parks Police.
Both tour operators conduct business from city-owned land near the Rainbow Bridge using city-issued tourism licenses that are now in jeopardy.
City Council President Sam Fruscione wants them revoked.
"I'm going to insist on it," he told The Buffalo News on Tuesday. "This is once more an embarrassment to Niagara Falls. They are out there hustling everybody, not only the tourists, but also the state. You stole, and there's going to be consequences."
Those charged are accused of scheming to sell stolen Discovery Pass tickets to state park attractions. Investigators said they recovered 252 Maid of the Mist tickets and nine Cave of the Winds tickets, valued at nearly $4,000.
According to court records, the scheme goes back to last year and involved as many as 850 tickets valued at well over $10,000.
State Parks Detective Sgt. Brian Nesbit said the stolen tickets were part of Discovery Passes, which offer a discounted package deal for $33 to five Falls state park attractions, including the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds.
"Customers would legitimately purchase the Discovery Pass, then pull out and use the Maid of the Mist pass, but [two accused employees] would take the passes and not void them," Nesbit said. "They were reusing passes that were not turned in."
Nesbit said investigators got wind of the ticket scam when the Cave of the Winds found tour companies bringing people to the attraction instead of using a trolley that is included as part of the Discovery Pass.
Roderick Haslip, 50, of Niagara Falls, a driver for Cataract Tours, was charged with two counts of third-degree grand larceny and two counts of criminal possession of stolen property. Haslip, who has been fired, was the ring leader, according to court papers, either scooping up used passes from attraction counters or conspiring with employees to buy passes for $1, then reselling them for $5.
Tour company workers who purchased the stolen tickets then sold them for slightly below their sale value, Nesbit said. Maid of the Mist tickets are individually valued at $13.50; Cave of the Winds, $11.
Haslip told investigators he stole about 100 to 125 Maid of the Mist Discovery Pass tickets that were on a counter and purchased 650 used tickets from Maid of the Mist employee Richard Harris, 25, of North Tonawanda, who worked there from May 8 to July 3. Harris was charged with petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.
Harris told investigators he would put aside tickets in an envelope and later sell them to Haslip.
Demetrius Barber, 31, of Niagara Falls, a Cave of the Winds employee, who also allegedly sold used tickets to Haslip, was charged with third-degree grand larceny. Barber also was fired, according to Nesbit.
Tickets were allegedly sold to Blue Waters Tour owner Joseph J. Marino, 60, of Fort Erie, Ont., and his employee, Christopher Hromowyk, 32, of North Tonawanda, who both were charged with criminal possession of stolen property.
Also allegedly purchasing tickets was Richard Whitney, 48, of Lewiston, an employee of Over the Falls Tours, who was charged with criminal possession of stolen property. He also was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and unlawful possession of marijuana when he was stopped by police serving the warrant.
Haslip, in court papers, told investigators that he sold as many as 400 tickets to Marino, receiving $1,200 to $1,500 and sold about 175 to 200 tickets to Whitney for $500 to $600.
Both Whitney and Marino admitted to investigators that they were buying the tickets, and Hromowyk said Blue Water Tours was selling 10 to 15 of the illegal tickets a day, according to court papers.
The city-issued licenses to the tour companies may be pulled.
"We're reviewing the police reports and determining if any action needs to be taken sooner rather than later," Johnson said.
News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht contributed to this report.