Crime

Mystery surrounds existence of Modesto beer festival

A festival set for this weekend promised to bring craft beer, nationally known bands and even jet ski races to downtown Modesto.

But the organizers of the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival can’t be reached and have acquired no permits, officials say. It’s not clear just who is behind it.

What is going to happen on Saturday at the advertised location of the event – a small patch of grass across the street from Graceada Park – is unknown. But it’s certain the affair that promised more than 250 craft beers and fine seafood has not, and will not, receive approval from the city’s entertainment commission, said Andy Johnson, Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods manager.

“It appears to be a fictitious event, possibly a scam,” he said.

None of the proper permits or licenses have been submitted to the department nor were applications even pulled.

An event with food and alcohol would require permits from the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency and a license from Alcohol Beverage Control, as well as approval from the Modesto police and fire departments. Permits are required for everything from live music to the use of propane.

Licensed security guards or contracted Modesto police officers are required for every 100 people at an event. One of the third-party ticket sale websites used for the event boasted attendance exceeding 2,000.

The organizers would have to submit a map with the location of every vendor and stage, and the designated area where alcohol would be served.

Johnson said fulfilling all these requirements takes weeks or longer for first-time events.

Once submitted, his department has 30 days to review the application and then is required to give the public 14 days to inspect the application at City Hall before it is presented to the entertainment commission for final approval.

Promotional material for the event indicates proceeds will go to the United Way, but Johnson said his staff contacted the charity, which knew nothing about it.

The name of the event and what is being offered varies depending on where it’s being promoted, including The Modesto Bee, a local radio station and several websites.

Food options range from all you-can-eat lobster, crab and oysters to a mixed bag of vendors offering everything from barbecue to Asian food.

Live music was touted in The Bee ad, while jet ski races are among the activities mentioned in other media.

Five business names appear between the advertisement, the events website and Facebook page, and third-party ticket vendors, none of which have business licenses, according to public records.

While fliers for the festival indicate the event took place in previous years, there’s no record of that, and the modestobeer.com website was created last month, according to public records.

The local number listed for the event is disconnected and a Fresno-based number on one of the ticket sale sites was answered by a woman Wednesday who said she’d pass The Bee’s message along to organizers. But no one returned the call.

More than 100 half-price tickets were sold on Groupon, according to the website. On Wednesday the page for the event stated, “Sorry, this deal is not yet available.”

A representative from Groupon said Tuesday, “If the event doesn’t end up taking place, the people who purchased the deal will be refunded.”

Online ticket vendors Brown Paper Tickets and Eventbrite still had the Modesto Beer and Bites event on their sites Wednesday but users could not purchase tickets, which range from $18.50 to $99.

Neither company responded to requests from The Bee for comment, so it’s unknown how many, if anyone, used the sites to buy tickets for the event or if the companies will refund their money.

Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves said those who believe they are a victim of fraud should go the the police department at 600 10th St. with proof of purchase and file a police report.

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