- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - An online ticket sales company that settled deceptive business practice allegations by government regulators for $750,000 in July is headed to trial in its defamation lawsuit against a Hartford theater and its president.

TicketNetwork Inc. is suing The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and its president and chief executive, David Fay. The South Windsor company says Fay disparaged the company’s business practices with false allegations in comments to state lawmakers and a newspaper in 2011.

After more than three years of court proceedings, including more than 100 motions, rulings and other filings, a trial is scheduled to begin on Wednesday in Hartford Superior Court.

Fay told a legislative committee considering easing restrictions on online ticket sellers that TicketNetwork and others used software to create virtual buyers that gobbled up seats sold through The Bushnell website, then sold them for inflated prices. Such virtual buyers would begin transactions then keep requesting additional time to complete their purchase, allowing the sites to choose the best seats, he said.

Prices could reach 10 times face value for popular shows, Fay told the committee considering the ultimately failed bill.

Fay testified he was not trying to pick on TicketNetwork’s then-chief executive, Donald Vaccaro.

“This is an example of what many online ticket brokers do,” Fay told the committee. “It’s predatory practices. … The reality here is that there is a group of Wild West folks who simply don’t want the public to know the truth.”

Fay also complained to the committee about how TicketNetwork’s site appeared above The Bushnell’s own when searching for tickets to a particular event - an issue that was part of the deceptive practices complaint.

In the lawsuit, TicketNetwork said Fay’s comments weren’t true. It said “TicketNetwork functions as an electronic marketplace for the selling of tickets by those who have tickets, and TicketNetwork does not itself buy tickets, or put tickets on ‘hold,’ or raise the resale price on tickets.”

“TicketNetwork intends to prove at trial that those comments were false and harmful, so that TicketNetwork’s reputation is restored,” said Brian O’Donnell, a lawyer for the company, in an email to The Associated Press.

Fay was in England on business and unavailable for comment, his assistant said. Messages seeking comment were left for Joseph Musco, a lawyer for Fay and The Bushnell. In court documents, they denied TicketNetwork’s allegations and said Fay’s comments were true.

TicketNetwork is seeking undisclosed damages. It also wants a judge to order Fay and the Bushnell to retract their “false testimony” before the legislature and send a letter to the Journal Inquirer of Manchester correcting their “false testimony and false statements.”

In July, TicketNetwork and three other companies settled allegations of deceptive business practices lodged by the Federal Trade Commission and Connecticut officials. TicketNetwork agreed to pay $750,000 and take other actions.

The FTC said the companies’ ads and websites “misled consumers into thinking they were buying event tickets from the original venue at face value. Instead, the complaint alleges, the companies’ websites actually were ticket reseller sites with event tickets often priced above the venue’s original price.”

Also in 2011, TicketNetwork and the state agreed to a multimillion-dollar loan package for the company in exchange for job creation as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature economic development program. The company withdrew from the program in 2012 after Vaccaro was arrested on accusations of hurling a racial insult at a bouncer at a party. Vaccaro later was sentenced to a probation program.

In July, TicketNetwork also settled a lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Scheman, who became co-chief executive in 2011. Scheman said the company fired him last January in retaliation for his cooperation with federal and state investigators looking into TicketNetwork’s businesses practices. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

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