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Posted at 12:35 PM ET, 12/16/2010

Sentencing set in online ticketing scheme

By Mary Pat Flaherty

For most of this decade, the Wiseguys went big, using sophisticated computer programs to jump cyber lines for the hottest concerts and sports events and snap up tickets they resold at inflated prices.

In March, the Wiseguys will either go home on probation or go to prison after they are sentenced on federal charges stemming from a scheme in which they earned $25 million and outmaneuvered the ticketing control systems of some of the largest vendors in the country.

From Hannah Montana to Wrestlemania nationally -- and from a Redskins game to a Phish concert in Virginia locally -- the company got the best seats in the house. They used computer programs that could automatically decode those squiggly word prompts in microseconds and rapidly fill in credit card information in violation of the terms that the event vendors had in place for ticket buys, prosecutors said.

The Wiseguys operation sometimes posed as members of fans clubs to get first shot at concerts and targeted seats set aside for the visually impaired because those were closest to stages, prosecutors have said previously.

And in a crafty move, they intentionally programmed some keystroke errors into their automated buying programs to make it appear that humans not computers were online shopping, court records show.

Helping them in the plan were programmers working in Bulgaria, the indictment against them said.

For ticketbuyers who loathe the service fees associated with some sales and the control of venues by other vendors, the Wiseguys case provoked spirited debates about whether the company was merely an updated equivalent of the guys who sleep outside the box office to be first in line, or the scalpers who operate with little interference.

Crooked or cunning? That was the question.

It appears the answer was crooked, now that three top employees of the company have pleaded guilty to federal charges.

The two owners of the audaciously named Wiseguy Tickets Inc. each pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and exceed authorized access to computers engaged in interstate commerce.

Kenneth Lowson, 41, and Kristofer Kirsch, 37, both of Los Angeles, reached plea deals. So did the company's lead programmer in the United States, Joel Stevenson, 37, of Alameda, Calif.

Lowson and Kirsch could receive a sentence ranging from probation to two years in prison at their sentencing scheduled for March 15, their plea deals state.

Stevenson, who pleaded guilty to exceeding authorized access to computers in interstate commerce, faces a sentence ranging from probation to one year in prison, according to terms in his deal.

The case also could involve fines or forfeiture penalties.

A fourth company member that prosecutors allege is a co-conspirator -- Faisal Nahdi --remains at large, according to the United States Attorney's office for New Jersey, which brought the case.

By Mary Pat Flaherty  | December 16, 2010; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  Around the Nation, From the Courthouse, Mary Pat Flaherty, Updates  
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