Former WFAN sports personality Craig Carton convicted in Ponzi scheme
Craig Carton, a familiar and influential voice to sports-crazy New Yorkers for a decade on radio station WFAN, was convicted Wednesday in Manhattan federal court of a multimillion-dollar fraudulent Ponzi scheme for misleading investors to put money into his ticket resale business.
The verdict came on the second day of deliberation after a weeklong trial on charges that Carton used deceit to raise more than $4 million to buy blocks of event tickets to be resold at a profit, and then diverted the money to pay personal expenses, gambling debts and prior investors.
Carton, 49, of Manhattan, the longtime partner of former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason on WFAN’s morning drive-time show until his stunning fall from grace, left the station after he was charged last year. Opinionated and never at a loss for words on air, he didn’t testify at trial, and didn’t react as the verdict was read.
In brief and subdued remarks outside court, Carton, convicted of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud, said he was “disappointed” but respected the decision.
“I need to let it sink in now,” he told reporters. “I’ll have nothing else to say other than my plans. …I’m going to go home and hug my kids and let my lawyers deal with the rest of it.”
Carton was released pending sentencing, and his lawyer said he planned to appeal. Jurors declined to comment after the verdict, but Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, in a statement, lambasted Carton for his “blatant lies.”
“Craig Carton solicited investments for his ticket buying scheme by touting his show business contacts and ability to buy blocks of tickets to live events,” Berman said. “ . . . As a unanimous Manhattan jury has found, Carton was all talk.”
Although Carton's sentence will likely be far lower, he faces a maximum of 45 years in prison. Sentencing was set for Feb. 27.
A radio veteran from stations in New Jersey and elsewhere, Carton joined WFAN in 2007. He established an outspoken persona — captured in the title of a later autobiography, “Loudmouth” — as he engaged in morning guy-talk with Esiason, who declined to comment after the verdict but said he would discuss it on the air Thursday.
Esiason continues to host a morning show on WFAN.
When the charges were filed last year, Carton was confident — telling reporters he ran a legitimate ticket business and would come back “stronger than ever.” As recently as September he predicted on a podcast a return to radio "when it comes out that I'm exonerated and the jury says not guilty.”
According to evidence at trial, he had used his connections for years to buy and resell small blocks of tickets, and in 2016 began working with two alleged co-conspirators — Michael Wright, who has pleaded guilty, and Joseph Meli, who is now in prison for a separate Ponzi scheme — to expand the model.
He raised $7 million altogether, and his largest investor was Brigade Capital, a hedge fund that put in $4.6 million. A Brigade official testified the money was only for tickets and said Carton claimed he had deals to buy large blocks of tickets with a promoter and an arena operator.
But two executives from Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, the operator of Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center, testified emails Carton forwarded to Brigade had been altered or invented, and a purported agreement with the arena to buy $2 million in tickets for Barbra Streisand and Metallica concerts was fabricated.
CEO Brett Yormark and former chief of staff Fred Mangione said that while Carton pestered them relentlessly and they were willing to help on small purchases, because he was a major voice on WFAN, they never thought he had a good handle on the ticket business and never agreed to the type of deal he told Brigade he had.
Records introduced by prosecutors also showed millions of dollars from Brigade and other investors had not gone to tickets, but instead went through accounts of Carton and his co-conspirators and to pay casinos, gambling debts, a landscaper who worked on Carton’s house, and earlier investors.
Carton’s defense was multifaceted. His defense team claimed he was duped by Meli, blamed Yormark and Mangione for leading him on, and said his high-strung personality and “anxiety” about his business caused him to tell lies he shouldn’t have told.
Defense lawyer Robert Gottlieb told jurors it wasn’t a crime if Carton ultimately intended to pay everyone back, and he was free to divert money wherever he wanted as long as he met his obligations.
But Brigade and other investors said he didn’t pay what he owed. Prosecutors as well as U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon told jurors that lying to get people to give up control of their money was fraud.