Free tickets to Orioles' Opening Day 1992 seemed "too good to be true," a city man told Baltimore County deputies yesterday -- as they arrested him for failure to pay his court-ordered child support.
But apparently most of the 350-some people who received letters offering free tickets from a group calling itself the Grand Slammers were suspicious.
Only five men -- plus one ringer -- showed up as instructed at the American Legion hall in Towson to claim their "prize."
Their reward: a trip to the slammer.
At least one man still didn't get it. Even after he was handcuffed, sheriff's deputies said he kept asking, "Do I still get my tickets?"
In all, eight men were jailed on civil contempt-of-court charges. Most had bail set in the amount they are alleged to owe.
The sting was part of Operation Grand Slammers, which began about four months ago, said Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr.
The effort already had cleared about three dozen cases, as sheriff's and court authorities winnowed more than 800 names of parents wanted for owing child support to come up with addresses that seemed promising.
The letters went out three weeks ago, telling the "Dear Friend of Baseball" to come to the American Legion hall between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to pick up free Opening Day tickets.
A carpet-layer who came on his lunch hour yesterday protested after being arrested that he had two jobs waiting.
Another man ran into the Legion hall minutes before 3 p.m., waving his letter and asking "Am I too late? I hope I didn't miss you all."
As he was being taken away for a bail hearing, yet another man called to say he was running late, but he provided deputies with his home and work addresses in hopes of still getting his tickets.
The letters also told recipients they were "eligible for the 1992 Season Ticket Drawing" -- if they would just return an enclosed postcard with their addresses by Nov. 15.
Two people who had returned cards were arrested in a 6 a.m. sweep yesterday, but many of the 30-some cards returned gave false or unusable addresses.
Those who showed up at the Legion hall found a placard and balloons in its spacious pine-paneled basement, where Carolyn Martin, an undercover deputy, verified their identities.
This prevented at least one faulty arrest: One of the wanted men sent his birth certificate along with his look-alike brother -- who quickly recanted when he realized what was happening, said Sgt. Michael J. Corrigan.
As the men came in, "they were excited; everybody was so excited, thinking they were going to get two free tickets," Deputy Martin said.
After she verified their identities, the men were sent to another room, where Michael S. Story, supervisor of support enforcement for the Baltimore County Circuit Court, waited to congratulate each winner, as four uniformed deputies moved in for the arrest.
Although the men were shocked, Mr. Story said, none resisted.
The operation was the first of its kind in Baltimore County. Arrested yesterday at the American Legion hall and the amounts they allegedly owe were: Charles L. Maybin, 33, of the 3900 block of North Rolling Road, $5,250; David M. Fistek, 28, of the 7600 block of Chesapeake Drive, $3,521; Walter Naill, 54, of the 2300 block of East Madison Street, $3,321; Donald A. Maggio of the 1600 block of Four Georges Court, $10,424; and James Gordon Murray, 43, of the 4400 block of Cook Avenue, $3,605.
Arrested earlier yesterday were Curtis Allen Jr., 25, of Songer Court, $1,041; and Frederick William Lundsford, 41, of the 1700 block of Charlotte Avenue, $2,553. William Joseph Gardner, 30, apparently learned he was wanted for $8,815 in
child support and surrendered at the Baltimore County sheriff's office.