- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa woman accused of duping dozens of people into buying non-existent tickets to the Super Bowl and other high-profile events has been charged with fraud in what investigators say was a years-long Ponzi scheme that improperly netted her at least $531,000.

Ranae Van Roekel of Boyden, Iowa, was charged in federal court Monday with mail and tax fraud, four years after the scheme became public.

Prosecutors say the 48-year-old was a self-employed ticket broker who ran the business “Get ‘em Now Tickets” from January 2008 to June 2012 and told a good story to personal contacts she duped. They say she falsely claimed to have personal relationships and ties to events that gave her an inside track for deeply discounted tickets, hotel rooms and VIP passes - once saying she was on the planning committee for the 2012 Super Bowl.

Van Roekel targeted acquaintances she had met through her family’s involvement in youth football activities, investigators say.

After customers would pay thousands of dollars for tickets in advance, Van Roekel later informed them that she couldn’t fill most of the orders. To avoid detection, she issued some victims refunds using money that came in from new ticket orders. But by 2012, many were out thousands of dollars and angry with themselves for trusting her, according to lawyers who represented them.

“She definitely was taking advantage of relationships that she had with people, using that to her advantage to be able to sell them,” said former Waterloo attorney Corey Lorenzen, who represented about a dozen of them. “She had put together a pretty elaborate story.”

Lorenzen said he hoped the case leads to a restitution order that refunds victims at least part of their money.

Van Roekel’s attorney, Jared Weber of Orange City, declined comment.

Van Roekel was charged in a document known as an information, which is typical for defendants who are expected to plead guilty as part of a plea agreement. There is no date set for a court appearance.

The charges list a victim with the initial “S.F.” at Assumption High School in Davenport, Iowa, who allegedly paid $1,664 for four tickets to the 2012 Super Bowl that never arrived.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has said that it received more than 50 complaints about Van Roekel’s business and forwarded the information to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

One of the victims included Ames businessman Dickson Jensen, who was defrauded out of $180,000 for tickets to the 2012 Super Bowl and other events. A judge in 2012 issued a default judgment ordering Van Roekel to refund him the money - and pay an additional $180,000 in punitive damages.

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