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Fans See RICO Fraud in 2014 World Cup Seats

LAS VEGAS (CN) - FIFA made hundreds of millions of dollars by overcharging U.S. fans who bought tickets to the 2014 Men's World Cup, they say in a federal class action.

Lead plaintiff Vicky Palivos, one of 1.6 million U.S. citizens who bought tickets to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, claims the "strategically and unlawfully marketed" tickets were sold at several times their face value.

FIFA used companies that "were mere shells, instrumentalities and conduits through which FIFA carried on its business" to "permit an abuse of corporate privilege" and "sanction fraud" in ticket sales and "made hundreds of millions of dollars by defrauding American consumers," according to the Sept. 8 lawsuit.

Brazil's "Fan Statute" outlaws sale of tickets for prices higher than face value to events in Brazil, including the 2014 World Cup, and there are criminal penalties for doing so, Palivos says. She says FIFA's own rules also prohibit sale of tickets for more than face value.

FIFA "sought to circumvent these restrictions on ticket sale prices by bundling tickets into what are referred to as 'hospitality packages'" in the United States, Palivos claims.

FIFA appointed Match Hospitality as the only authorized global provider of World Cup hospitality packages and SportsMark Management Group the sole U.S. provider of tickets to World Cup events for prices higher than face value, Palivos says. Both are named as defendants.

SportsMark marketed hospitality packages that included tickets, preferential parking, food and drinks, commemorative gifts and hospitality kits, and dedicated welcome areas with multilingual hosts.

Bundling match tickets with special services enabled FIFA and its accomplices to "disguise their unlawful sale of tickets at more than face value, deceiving American consumers and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenues and profits" from U.S. ticketholders, Palivos says in the lawsuit.

Pavilos says tried to buy tickets for face value but says SportsMark told her most events were sold out and she would have to pay "substantially higher" prices than face value for tickets.

She paid $736 per ticket - $2,944 total for four tickets - each of which had a face value of $135. The price markup for the June 18 Spain vs. Chile match she attended was 445 percent.

Co-plaintiff George Kleanthis says he tried three times to buy face-value tickets via drawings held through the FIFA website, which eventually referred him to Match Hospitality, which sold them for prices "well above" face value.

Because of FIFA's "price fixing, conspiracy and fraud," Kleanthis says, he paid $725 apiece for four tickets to the June 15 match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They too had a face value of $135 apiece.

Palivos estimates the class numbers in the millions.

She seeks class certification, restitution, disgorgement and damages for unjust enrichment, RICO fraud and antitrust violations.

Named as defendants are FIFA, Match Hospitality, Match Services, InFront Sports & Media, SportsMark Management Group and Cartan Tours.

She is represented by Martin Little with Jolley Urga Woodbury & Little, who was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. Nor were FIFA officials.

Switzerland-based FIFA is the international governing body of organized soccer in 209 nations and territories. The United States joined FIFA in 1914.

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