WFAN sports-talk celebrity Craig Carton was arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiracy in Manhattan federal court in an alleged multimillion-dollar ticket-resale Ponzi scheme to pay off casino debts and raise money to repay earlier investors.
Carton, whose opinionated, loudmouth persona contrasts with Boomer Esiason’s calmer style on their morning radio show, was accused of scamming more than $5 million from a hedge fund and other victims by falsely claiming he had access to blocks of tickets for artists ranging from Metallica to Barbra Streisand that he would resell at a profit.
Prosecutors said Carton, 48, of Manhattan, and Michael Wright, 41, of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, face up to 45 years in prison on charges of conspiracy and securities and wire fraud. They alleged an unnamed third man called “CC-1” — identified in a Securities and Exchange Commission suit as Joseph Meli, 42, of Manhattan — was also involved.
After being arrested at 3:45 a.m., Carton looked glum as he waited for his bail hearing wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt that said “Go Places.” After he and Wright were both released on $500,000 bonds, the professional talker was at a loss for words, hiding under a white hoodie and refusing to talk to reporters as he left court.
Carton was absent from his Wednesday morning drive-time appearance on CBS affiliate WFAN. Esiason briefly mentioned his arrest on air, but his agent did not return a call for comment. The station said Carton was suspended and would be temporarily replaced by Phil Simms.
“We are aware of the situation and are cooperating with authorities,” CBS Radio, WFAN’s owner, said.
The SEC suit, also filed Wednesday, said Carton and Meli — who was criminally charged in January with a Ponzi-type scheme involving “Hamilton” tickets — and five of their companies began the ticket reselling scheme in mid-2016.
Carton, who brags on-air about his betting expertise, had accrued millions in gambling debts to casinos and other individuals, the government said, complaining in one email that he had “approx. $2.5 [million] in outstanding debt that comes due over the next 30 days or so starting September 9.”
To help repay debts, the government said, Carton, Meli and Wright lured investors by lying and using forged agreements purporting to guarantee access to huge blocks of tickets from name-brand artists that could be sold at a significant profit, and then diverting their money.
Meli and Carton together stole $3.6 million from two investors and Carton alone scammed $2 million from one investor, the government said, promising 30 to 50 percent returns and plotting to use newly invested money to pay back earlier investors and get them to reinvest.
The criminal complaint quoted from emails in which “CC-1,” Wright and Carton discussed approaches to cleaning up various debts of $1 million, and Wright allegedly laid out eight options for repaying.
One of them: “Run to Costa Rica, change name and start life all over again,” the email said, adding, “May not be an option.”
In one of his deals, prosecutors said, Carton negotiated a $10 million “revolving loan” with a hedge fund to invest in multiple purported ticket deals, but when the first payment of $700,000 on the deal was wired, Carton used $200,000 to pay a casino and another $500,000 to pay back a loan from an individual.
In a later installment of the deal, the government said, the hedge fund insisted on sending $2 million directly to a sports and entertainment concert venue for tickets that Carton said had been guaranteed, and wanted the venue to confirm the wire information.
Carton, prosecutors said, convinced the hedge fund that executives at the venue were unavailable, and then after the money was wired, told the venue it was a mistake and had the money refunded to a company he controlled, splitting it with Wright and using none of it for tickets.
“Behind all the talk,” said acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, “the Wright and Carton show was just a sham designed to fleece investors.”
No victims were named by the government. Lawyers for Carton, Meli, and Wright, identified in news reports as a strip club owner, declined to comment.
With Neil Best