A Manhattan federal judge on Thursday sentenced strip club manager Michael Wright to 21 months in prison for his role in a ticket-resale Ponzi fraud with sports-talk celebrity Craig Carton after Wright blamed his famous co-defendant for seducing him into the scheme.
“He radiated energy and drive that drew me in,” Wright told U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in a plea for leniency. “I was a bit awed and flattered. … I went into the ticket business because I believed in Craig Carton. But I allowed myself to be blinded by him.”
Wright, 42, of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud for scamming millions from investors in former WFAN personality Carton’s ticket resale business and using the money to pay personal debts. Carton was convicted at trial, and his sentencing is set for April 5.
According to the evidence at trial, Carton raised $2 million from Brigade Capital, a hedge fund, to be invested in tickets, and Wright, a financial manager for the ticket business, diverted the money to pay down his own home equity line of credit and pay Carton’s gambling related debts.
For the sentencing, the courtroom was packed with Wright supporters, including family, friends from law enforcement and employees of Sapphire, the men’s club that his lawyer said he had turned into a clean, law-abiding business.
“I’ve never before had a case where I got letters of support from law enforcement and from exotic dancers,” McMahon said. “And all of them heartfelt.”
Defense lawyer Alan Futerfas described Wright as a good family man — a father of three young boys — who had made a mistake. Wright began sobbing when he tried to read a statement to the judge, and Futerfas read about half of it before Wright could compose himself.
He said he had no one to “blame” but himself, but said he was blinded by Carton’s “glamorous life style” and “celebrity” and “for too long a time I didn’t question him.”
“I didn’t want to see what I should have seen,” Wright said. “I looked away.”
McMahon told Wright not to minimize his role, describing him as more than a “getaway driver” in a major “heist.”
“There’s no difference between what you did and what Bernie Madoff did," the judge said, "except the scale of it, and $2 million is no mean sum.”
McMahon also said she didn’t fully accept Wright's explanation.
“I heard you say you were blinded by Mr. Carton’s celebrity and I think to a certain extent that’s true,” she said. “But it wasn’t Mr. Carton’s celebrity that made you take Brigade’s money and pay off your mortgage.”
Wright, who faced up to 20 years in prison, asked for no prison time. McMahon’s sentence was at the low end of the 21 to 27 month range recommended by prosecutors. He was ordered to surrender on June 10.