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Ponzi scheme trial of former talk-radio star Craig Carton begins

Former sports talk radio host Craig Carton, left,

Former sports talk radio host Craig Carton, left, arrives at a federal courthouse in Manhattan on Monday for the first day of his trial. Credit: Charles Eckert

Former sports talk-radio star Craig Carton used his high-profile position to get people to invest with him and then cheated them, prosecutors told jurors on Tuesday as the ex-WFAN personality’s Ponzi scheme trial began in Manhattan federal court.

“The defendant had one of the most influential and trusted voices in radio in New York City,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Quigley said. “People liked him, people trusted him and he lied to those people. That’s fraud and it’s a serious crime.”

Carton, the longtime host of a morning drive-time talk show with former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, was charged last year with using false statements to raise $4 million from investors to buy tickets for resale at a profit and then diverting the money to personal uses, including repayment of big gambling debts.

“He took their money and used it not on tickets but to pay casinos, to pay back other people who had invested, even on landscapers,” Quigley argued. “ . . . Carton used the money like his own personal piggy bank . . . The money was used to benefit Craig Carton, plain and simple.”

Carton’s defense lawyers contend he had a legitimate ticket resale business and never intended to defraud anyone, but was victimized by alleged co-conspirator Joseph Meli — now in prison for a separate ticket-related Ponzi scheme — who was considered a “go-to guy” with access to tickets when Carton decided to expand his business in 2016.

“He thought Mr. Meli was legitimate, and you’ll learn that Mr. Carton was played,” defense lawyer Robert Gottlieb told the jury. “He had no reason to suspect that Meli was the con man, the huckster that Mr. Meli turned out to be.”

Gottlieb admitted that Meli had forged some ticket purchase agreements used by Carton to lure investors, but insisted that Carton was in the dark.

“Mr. Carton said what he said and did what he did, he told the truth with the intent to fulfill his obligations to everyone,” Gottlieb told the jury. “He never never ever intended to cause them harm.”

The first government witness Tuesday was Chris Chaice , a senior attorney for Brigade Capital, a giant hedge fund prosecutors said was persuaded to invest more than $4 million in ticket deals for artists like Metallica, Barbra Streisand and Justin Bieber in late 2016 based on false statements by Carton.

Chaice said some of the investments were channeled to fund contracts for purported block-ticket purchases by a Meli company, but $2 million was invested to fund purchases from Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment — the company that operates Barclays Center and the Nassau Coliseum — where Carton had high-level contacts.

He testified that Brigade’s money was wired directly to the company for tickets, but he never knew that — as prosecutors allege — Carton later arranged to have it transferred to him, and never would have approved its use for anything but tickets.

“We wanted the money to be used for this one purpose,” Chaice said. In the spring of 2017, when Brigade expected profits to start arriving from the resale of the tickets, Chaice testified that he called Carton to ask about the money. “The answer in essence was not available at that time,” he said.

Prosecutors contend that Carton also doctored emails to convince Brigade that he had a signed ticket purchase with Brooklyn Sports when he didn’t, forwarding manufactured or altered emails from Brooklyn Sports executive Fred Mangione.

A Brooklyn Sports tech expert said one purported email from Mangione to Carton didn’t exist at all on the company’s servers, and noted that the one Carton sent Brigade identified Mangione on his signature line as “Chief of Staff” — a subtle difference from the all-upper-case “Chief Of Staff” appearing on hundreds of Mangione emails that were on the servers.

The trial resumes on Wednesday.

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