Police: Bogus Disneyland tickets tied to Ceres couple

10/02/2013 5:12 PM

10/02/2013 10:10 PM

The persistence of a woman who drove her family nearly 300 miles to Disneyland only to find the tickets she’d bought on Craigslist were fake has led to an Investigation of a Ceres couple.

Reports of bogus Disneyland tickets allegedly sold by couple Jessica Melendez and Israel Vasquez are being investigated by Ceres police after officers found more than 15 tickets when searching their home in the 1800 block of Evans Road on Tuesday, according to department spokeswoman Carissa Higginbotham.

On Wednesday, Vasquez told The Bee that he and Melendez never sold any bad tickets and that he had receipts from Disneyland for all of them, which he showed police.

Robin Tuitama said she met Melendez in her hometown of Las Vegas in July when she responded to a Craigslist ad for discounted two-day passes to Disneyland.

The woman Tuitama met was with her husband and 7-year-old daughter and identified herself as Valerie.

“She gained my trust,” Tuitama said. “She was super-friendly and super-nice; we hit it off talking about how great Disneyland is.”

The woman told her she and her family had gone to Disneyland but, because of a family emergency, her brother and his family couldn’t, so she was selling the tickets for him.

Tuitama paid $400 for the tickets and last month drove with her husband, infant daughter and 3- and 5-year-old sons to Anaheim. But when they got to the gate, their tickets were confiscated by Disneyland personnel, who said they were copies of already-used electronic tickets.

“My kids didn’t understand, but me and my husband were shocked, and I was sick to my stomach,” Tuitama said. “This woman was so friendly and nice, I never would have thought this would happen; it’s was gut-wrenching.”

Tuitama said Disneyland officials kept three of the tickets, which they said had serial numbers that multiple people had attempted to use, but let her keep one as evidence.

Ceres police contacted Tuitama on Tuesday and confirmed that one of the tickets found in Melendez and Vasquez’s home had the same serial number as the one Disneyland let her keep as evidence. Police were able to search the home because Melendez is on probation for theft.

Neither has been charged with any crime related to fake Disneyland tickets, but Vasquez was cited and released on a warrant related to truancy and Melendez was booked into the Public Safety Center on Hackett Road on a warrant for failing to show at the Alternative Work Program.

The Ceres Police Department started its investigation Tuesday after an inquiry by The Bee about the alleged ticket scam.

Tuitama said she connected Valarie to Melendez by searching her phone number online. She discovered other tickets were being sold on Craigslist by a woman named Valarie, and also Teresa, but Melendez’s name is associated with the phone number listed.

She also found a Bee story from January 2010 in which Melendez was interviewed as a parent volunteer at Caswell Elementary School. She recognized Melendez from her photo that ran with the story. Records show she also is on the Measure U bond oversight committee for the Ceres Unified School District.

After investigating the case, Ceres police found two other reports from May involving accusations of fraudulent tickets being sold by Vasquez.

Melissa Alvarez said she bought eight tickets in May. She went with her two children, her nephew, parents and little brother and sister. She said five of the tickets were valid but the other three were denied.

“All three of us were crying. I couldn’t help it – the expense of just staying the night and eating was so much, not to mention the tickets,” Alvarez said.

She said Vasquez told her he got the tickets from a family member who works at AAA and gets them at a reduced price.

Another woman, Emily Encina, said she went to the Evans Road home to get the tickets and they were handed to her in a folder with the AAA logo.

“He kept reiterating to me, ‘I would never sell fake tickets, I’ve seen people get turned away with their kids,’” Encina said.

She said Vasquez told her the tickets were left over from a family trip that some members couldn’t attend.

That is what Vasquez told The Bee on Wednesday, adding that if there were copies circulating, someone else made them, not him or Melendez.

A Disneyland official said not many fraudulent passes turn up at the gates of “The Happiest Place on Earth” but guests are cautioned against purchasing tickets from an unauthorized third party.

“To ensure that our guests are not taken advantage of, we recommend that they purchase tickets only from the Disneyland Resort or an authorized retailer,” said spokesperson Betsy Sanchez.

While police are left to sort out the evidence, at least three people are out nearly $1,000.

“It’s kind of embarrassing now, but I had never been cheated before and I like to think people are generally good,” Encina said.

This case is actively being investigated by Ceres Police Detectives and anyone with information or other potential fraud victims are encouraged to contact Detective Darren Venn at (209) 538-5616 or darren.venn@ci.ceres.ca.us. Tips can also be anonymously reported to the Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers to Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers at 1-866-60-CRIME. Text tips to “274637” TIP704 in the wording or visit www.modestopolice.com/crimestoppers. 

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