LOWER MANHATTAN — A dozen cruise-ticket vendors were arrested last week, accused of duping tourists trying to get to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island by peddling them tickets for boats that never dock at the landmarks, police said.
The arrests Wednesday were part of an ongoing investigation into illegal, sometimes violent, ticket selling at The Battery, a problem that many, including Statue Cruises — the only boat line authorized to take passengers directly to the Statue of Liberty — have been publicly calling on the NYPD to squelch.
But a police source involved in the investigation says the "chaos" of the ticket sellers around Battery Park has been fueled in part by ferry companies — including Statue Cruises' parent company, Hornblower, Inc. — that rely on a network of aggressive sellers, some with violent criminal records.
Hornblower — which was recently tapped to run Mayor Bill de Blasio's planned citywide ferry service — has used questionable companies, including one that was run by a convicted rapist, that buy their tickets in bulk for at least $50,000 at a time and hire hawkers to sell them, said the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the case.
In a statement, Hornblower said it "will continue to assist the NYPD in any way with their ongoing investigation. Hornblower, nor any Hornblower employee, would ever enter into any agreement with a company or individual who would knowingly engage in unethical or illegal activity."
While Hornblower is not the only company to use ticket sellers, the source — who has worked closely on the investigation for more than a year — said most of the tickets sold by the vendors surrounding Battery Park, where Statue Cruises docks, were for Hornblower cruises.
"Hornblower has known that they are contracting companies that employ people on probation for serious crimes, including sex offenders," and the company has been aware of the chaotic situation at The Battery, where vendors have aggressively pursued tourists, for at least the past year, the source said.
So far this year, 50 vendors near The Battery — not including those in the crackdown last week — have been arrested for either lying to tourists or aggressively pushing the sales, the source said. Whenever someone arrested was found with tickets on them, they always had Hornblower tickets, sometimes along with other tour company tickets, the source added.
The vendors sell tickets for legitimate rides that sail around the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, instead of the trips that actually take tourists directly to those destinations. Police say they use tactics like telling tourists who are hoping to get off at Liberty Island that it's closed for construction, though it's not.
As of January 2016, police had identified 106 individual ticket sellers near The Battery: 51 were on parole for a crime, and 19 were sex offenders, the source said.
One ticket resale company, which the source identified as FMM Trading, was managed by owner Mian Farooq while he was incarcerated at Rikers Island in 2015 for a parole violation. Farooq had previously spent nearly 13 years in prison, from 2000 to 2013, for raping and beating a 16-year-old relative, according to court records and the source.
Farooq did not respond to requests for comment.
An investigation by police into the ticket scammers began in March 2015, the source said. After the NYPD saw the sellers peddle a large number of Hornblower tickets, they met with the company last July “to try and resolve this major quality of life issue."
“The hope was that Hornblower could work to find alternative ways to have their tickets sold, aside from these contracted companies,” the source said. But since then, "nothing has changed," the source added.
In a joint statement from Hornblower and its subsidiary, Statue Cruises, the companies said they cut ties with FMM in 2015.
"Hornblower establishes a clear set of standards with all vendors and if a vendor does not comply, we cease to do business with them," the statement read. "Hornblower has severed ties with several vendors to date, including FMM. Hornblower continually conducts reviews on protocols on a regular and consistent basis."
The companies also said they commended the NYPD's efforts to clean up The Battery and "support a consumer-friendly, one-stop ticket sales kiosk and [are] taking active steps in improving the customer experience in New York."
Police beefed up their investigation into the Battery Park ticket sellers in the wake of several violent incidents, including a tourist whose skull was fractured after rebuffing an illegal vendor in February 2016 and infighting between the pack of sellers.
Hornblower's subsidiary, Statue Cruises, has several times called on the NYPD to increase its presence in The Battery, and made a media push, including in an interview with DNAinfo New York, to attract attention to the "chaos" with the ticket sellers.
"The situation with the illegal ticket sellers has absolutely gotten out of hand," Rafael Abreu, a spokesman for Statue Cruises, told DNAinfo in February. "It's horrendous — we need more of a presence by law enforcement."
Abreu explained at the time that the crush of vendors at The Battery began in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, nearly four years ago, when Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty were actually closed, making it a sort of free-for-all in terms of selling tickets to tours around the Statue of Liberty.
Curbing the problem of aggressive sales tactics has to be a joint effort between police and the companies that contract out sales of their tickets, the source said.