A former math teacher from Long Island was charged in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday with running a $70 million Ponzi scheme that scammed investors in a bogus business marketing premium tickets for events like the Super Bowl and “Hamilton.”
Jason Nissen, 44, of Roslyn, allegedly raised money from a private equity firm and a diamond dealer to buy blocks of tickets that would be resold at a profit, but instead used the funds to repay other investors and enrich himself, eventually admitting in a recorded conversation with one victim he made up phony financial records.
“Photoshop,” he explained. “You ever hear of it?”
And when an executive at the diamond dealer accused Nissen of running a Ponzi scheme, according to a transcript, Nissen responded, “I guess you want to call it . . . I was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.”
“Yeah,” the executive answered. “That’s the definition of a Ponzi.”
Nissen faces up to 20 years in prison on one count of wire fraud. He was released on a $250,000 bond to be secured by his parents’ home after a brief court appearance Wednesday. He did not enter a plea, and his lawyer declined to comment afterward.
“The tickets were supposed to be sold for a profit, but they weren’t,” said William Sweeney, head of the New York FBI office, in a statement. “Nissen eventually defrauded his victims out of at least $70 million collectively, all of which he used in furtherance of his scheme and for his own personal gain.”
In 2003, Nissen made news when he was suspended from a job teaching math at a Queens public school for selling tickets to a free Dave Matthews concert to students, and was declared a “disgrace” by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to a New York Times story at the time.
The Times also reported then that he had pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for reselling U.S. Open tennis tickets near the official ticket counters. A spokesman for the city Board of Education said on Wednesday that Nissen was fired in 2004.
The complaint did not name Nissen’s company or the two investors he allegedly ripped off, but business websites identified his firm as National Event Company, which claimed to be an “industry leader in providing VIP access” that stocked “one of the largest revolving inventories for sports, concerts and theatre worldwide.”
After founding the company in 2012, Nissen got $40 million from the equity firm in return for a minority stake in 2015, and borrowed $32 million in increments over the last two years from the diamond wholesaler to fund purchases of blocks of tickets for specific events, such as UFC fights or the March NCAA Tournament.
But despite a flashy website featuring pictures of celebrity performers and claims that he was running a multimillion dollar business, it was all an illusion, the government said.
On May 7, prosecutors said, Nissen began admitting his scheme when he ran out of new victims to borrow money from to cover past shortfalls, and begged for help from his past marks to stay out of jail.
In the recorded conversation, the executive from the diamond dealer asked if all the financial reports Nissen had been providing were fake.
“No,” Nissen responded. “Some of it was real and some of it was fake . . . The numbers are just all multiplied. It’s the real numbers, but multiplied.”