A businessman accused of participating in a Ponzi scheme conspiracy with former sports talk-radio star Craig Carton pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court Thursday to charges stemming from the alleged $4 million ticket resale scam.
Michael Wright, 41, of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading to wire fraud. He didn’t agree to cooperate with prosecutors, but said in his plea that in 2016 Carton instructed him to divert $550,000 Carton had raised from investor Brigade Capital Management to repay his personal debts.
“I was aware that there was a high probability that Craig Carton had represented to Brigade that the funds it sent were to be used exclusively for the purpose of purchasing concert tickets, and I consciously avoided confirming that fact,” Wright told U.S. Magistrate Stewart Aaron.
Carton, formerly a radio host at WFAN, is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 29 on charges he and Wright raised money from investors to buy high-end event tickets and resell them at a profit, but instead paid off earlier investors and Carton’s gambling and personal debts.
Carton has pleaded not guilty. His defense lawyer declined to comment on the specific claims Wright made in his guilty plea, but said it didn’t alter plans to fight the charges at trial.
“For whatever reason Mr. Wright decided to plead guilty,” said lawyer Robert Gottlieb. “It doesn’t change anything regarding Mr. Carton. We are getting ready for trial. We will be ready to try this case in October and Mr. Carton is innocent of committing any crimes whatsoever.”
But prosecutors left little doubt they saw the plea as implicating Carton, saying in a news release that Wright “and his partners in crime conducted an elaborate ticket-buying scheme to defraud investors of millions of dollars.”
“From creating phony contracts to outright lies,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a statement. “Wright and his cohorts ensured that the money his backers thought they were investing actually went directly into his and his co-defendant’s pockets.”
Wright, who has been identified as an executive in a company that owns gentlemen’s clubs, said in his plea that debts he repaid with the $550,000 included money Carton owed him. When asked if he knew at the time what he was doing was illegal, he answered, “Yes, your honor.”
As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to characterize Wright as a “minor participant” in the alleged fraud, reducing his likely sentence under advisory federal guidelines to 21 to 27 months. Wright also agreed to forfeit $346,000.