Crime

Questions arise over Bay Area events possibly linked to Modesto Beer and Bites Festival

The address given for the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival is a small patch of grass across the street from Graceada Park in Modesto, seen Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.
The address given for the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival is a small patch of grass across the street from Graceada Park in Modesto, seen Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. aalfaro@modbee.com

A fake beer and crab festival promoted to take place in downtown Modesto on Saturday appears to be tied to at least three other questionable events promoted in the Bay Area.

The Modesto Police Department is investigating who’s behind the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival, which sold tickets on Groupon and third-party ticket vendor websites but never even attempted to get approval from the city for such a large-scale affair.

The Internet protocol address for the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival is the same one that hosts websites for the Hot Garlic Crab Fest in San Francisco, the Naughty Garden Halloween Masquerade Ball in Oakland and the White Gala at Great America in Santa Clara.

A Facebook page tied to the name of Gary Jordan promoted the White Gala, which was supposed to happen Aug. 29 and didn’t, and recently posted were links to the masquerade ball and the garlic crab festival.

A woman who answered the phone number associated with the crab festival identified herself as London Parks, the “owner” of Go Bay Area LLC. The group claims to be running the crab festival and masquerade ball, which are selling tickets online.

She said this will be the crab festival’s fifth year, but information about past events could not be found online. It is slated to be held Nov. 14 at 10th and Folsom streets in downtown San Francisco. Parks said she had filed for a permit Friday morning.

SF officials unfamiliar with event

But Jocelyn Kane, executive director of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, said, “I’ve never heard of this thing; I have no idea what it is.”

Kane confirmed the department had not been contacted about the event as of Friday. Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs the city’s temporary street closure program, said it also had not been contacted about a permit for the event as of Friday.

According to the SFMTA, street closure applications for such an event must be turned in at least 30 days prior. Tickets are already being advertised on Eventbrite for $35 to $80 each for all-you-can-eat crab, live music and raffle/door prizes.

“We would expect organizers to have permits prior to selling tickets for an event,” Rose said.

A reservation had been made for a “holiday party” at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, which was to host the masquerade ball Oct. 31. But organizers had not paid the $6,500 deposit to confirm the reservation; Chabot Center canceled the reservation Friday, said spokeswoman Shannon Cherry.

Tickets for the masquerade ball are selling for $30 to $150, with an $899 fee being charged to vendors.

Parks said her events are in no way associated with the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival, explaining, “The IP address you’re speaking of belongs to a website designer/blogger Gary Jordan. We paid him to create both of our sites and to promote.”

While Parks said he is “one of many advertisers we work with,” the Facebook page associated with Jordan identifies him as the administrator of Go Bay Area LLC. Parks said her group is a nonprofit foundation, but the company is not licensed by the California secretary of state or the Internal Revenue Service, according to public records.

‘Comedy, music and celebrities’ promised

The White Gala, which promised to be a “monumental night of comedy, music and celebrities” on Aug. 29, never happened.

In mid-July, ticket holders began commenting on the Facebook page dedicated to the event, saying the phone number had been disconnected and the website indicated a change of venue.

The final post on the page July 17 said the location had to be changed and a new venue would be announced soon. The website for the event has since been taken offline.

A woman who read the story in The Modesto Bee on Wednesday about the Beer and Bites Festival immediately said she became suspicious of the tickets she purchased for the Hot Garlic Crab Fest when she noticed similarities between the events, including the online ticket vendor being used and claims that proceeds will go to charity.

“I called my credit card company, they told me that the charge was processed by a company called Modesto, LLC,” she wrote in an email.

She said she spent $250 on five VIP tickets and her credit card company won’t reverse the charges.

Modesto LLC is one of five company names listed on promotional material associated with the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival.

No company by that name, or any of the other four listed in promotional material, is licensed by the California secretary of state.

The case of the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival has been assigned to a detective, according to Modesto police spokeswoman Heather Graves. She said at least one person who bought a ticket has filed a police report. Ticket prices ranged from $18.50 to $99.

Two other people called The Bee saying they’d purchased tickets through third-party ticket vendor Brown Paper Ticket using Paypal, which refunded their money.

Veronica Francisco said she bought two tickets about a month ago for $36.50 each.

“I thought it was a really good deal because it was all you can eat,” said Veronica Francisco. “It was too good to be true.”

She said the location – a small patch of grass across from Graceada Park – seemed a little strange but she figured the address was probably wrong and didn’t think she’d have any problem finding a large event with thousands of people in downtown Modesto.

The event never got approval from the city’s entertainment commission, said Andy Johnson, Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods manager.

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

Longtime area event promoter Chris Ricci, who runs the Xclamation Festival, Lucky Fest and Riverbank Cheese & Wine Exposition, said fraudulent events hurt the area’s entertainment community and ticket buyers alike. He said he began hearing questions about the Beer and Bites Festival earlier this month and tried to look into it.

None of the vendors he works with regularly had been contacted by festival organizers. But the people behind the event took out ads on Groupon and it was widely promoted on several sites including The Modesto Bee and a local radio station.

A Groupon ad was also taken out for the White Gala and the masquerade ball.

“I think it makes it harder to produce new events. People will be wondering is this a real event or not,” Ricci said. “It’ll make especially hard for people who have never done events before, even legitimate nonprofits.”

Ricci said that before buying tickets to events, people should check to see if a company has a legitimate business license.

“If it’s a legitimate company or promoter, they should be able to get some answers fairly easily. If they can’t, it’s probably not a company you want to deal with,” he said.

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