Photo: AP

On Wednesday, police arrested more than a dozen people who were allegedly selling tourists fake tickets for ferry rides to the Statue of Liberty. The ferries, police said, never actually stopped at the Statue of Liberty, but rather circled New York Harbor before docking again.

According to the New York Times, the NYPD’s deputy police commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, John Miller, said that 21 vendors working around Battery Park had been charged with “fraudulent accosting.” Fourteen people were arrested and warrants were issued for seven more.

Commissioner Miller said the crackdown was meant to “eliminate what was becoming a growing quality-of-life problem down there.”

The police began investigating complaints about aggressive ticket sellers after a 33-year-old tourist from Arizona was assaulted in Battery Park in February after he rebuffed a vendor’s pitch. The tourist, Jeffrey White, was knocked unconscious and sustained a skull fracture. Two people were arrested and charged with assault.

After the episode, the police deployed undercover officers to pose as tourists in Battery Park and near the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

“What we found in the undercover portion of this,” Commissioner Miller said, “was that these aggressive ticket sellers preyed largely on people that they identified as tourists, particularly foreign tourists, by promising them that the tickets to the Statue of Liberty boat were all sold out, but that if they bought these tickets, it would take them to Liberty Island and they would have to charge a little extra and so on.”

Tickets for boats that stop at Liberty Island and Ellis Island are sold by a company called Statue Cruises, under contract with the National Park Service. Two vendors who work for one of the companies that sells tickets for boats that simply tour the harbor told NY1 that the onus is on tourists to note the distinction.

“You are not getting off on the Island on the Hornblower, and you are going around. If you want to get off, you go into Battery Park and you buy that ticket, and there, you can go and get off on the Island,” one said. Customers have to look at the tickets, the other said: “And it is one hour nonstop, and you don’t get off on the Island, and the customer reads this before they buy the ticket from us.”

The framing of this issue as a “quality-of-life problem” is not incidental, as Commissioner Miller was careful to also note that many of those charged have criminal histories. From the Times:

The vendors worked for five different companies contracted to sell tickets for boat operators offering tours of the harbor, the police said. Three of the businesses were run by parolees, including one who managed his company while incarcerated at Rikers Island, Commissioner Miller said.

The companies routinely hired offenders who were getting out of jail and needed to be employed as a condition of parole. Commissioner Miller said the practice raised concerns for the police because it put some sex offenders in contact with tourists who were traveling with children.

Last year, Corey Lashley, the owner of another ferry company operating out of Battery Park, sued the city and the NYPD, alleging that he and his employees had been subject to “borderline harassment” from the police. “Parks has given us more than 150 tickets, summonses and citations worth $250 to $1,000,” Lashley said in June. “And every time, they have been dismissed.”