Concert Promoter Gets More Than Six Years for ‘Hamilton’ ScamBy
Joseph Meli pleaded guilty in October to securities fraud
Case is one of several involving ticket-resale misconduct
A concert promoter was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison for scamming investors in a $100 million fraud that included fake promises to buy and resell tickets to popular concerts and smash musicals including the blockbuster "Hamilton."
Joseph Meli, 43, of New York, was also ordered to forfeit more than $104 million during a standing-room-only hearing in Manhattan federal court attended by his family and some of his alleged victims.
Meli pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud last year for telling investors their money would be used to buy and resell tickets but instead he repaid previous investors, made payments on a house in the Hamptons and bought a Porsche convertible and watches and jewelry.
“Meli directed his own version of a Broadway production, where the lead character deceives investors into giving him money that he pockets and spends on himself, or uses to pay off other investors,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
Meli and Steven Simmons, 48, of Wilton, Connecticut, were both charged in January 2017 with helping a hedge fund manager raise money to repay earlier investors and stealing the cash. Simmons pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to 37 months earlier on Tuesday. The hedge fund manager, Mark Varacchi, pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
The case is one of several involving misconduct in the ticket resale business that is increasingly being targeted by federal prosecutors in New York. Hamilton’s success drove Broadway revenue to an all-time high of $1.45 billion in the 2016-17 season, according to the Broadway League.
A former math teacher, Jason Nissen, last week pleaded guilty to ripping off investors of more than $60 million through a Ponzi scheme disguised as an effort to buy or sell tickets to concerts, musicals and sporting events.
Former radio sports talk radio host Craig Carton and Michael Wright were charged separately in September with scamming investors including a New York hedge fund of millions of dollars in a ticket-resale scheme for concerts including Adele and Katy Perry. Both have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go on trial in October.
Meli’s lawyers had asked Wood to sentence him to no more than 27 months, saying the married father of four has led an "extraordinary life" full of good deeds and noting the more than 100 letters sent on his behalf from people in "all walks of life." Meli stood and apologized to his family and investors, looking around the packed courtroom as he spoke.
"I’m going to do everything in my power to make this right," he said.
One of his victims, Michael Connor of Kansas City, a friend dating back to their middle school days in Minneapolis, said Meli had enticed him to invest almost $8 million for tickets to the Broadway show "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," based on what he later learned were fake documents.
"I realize he was not desperate," Connor said. "He targeted me, his long term friend, because I trusted him like a brother."
In imposing her sentence, Wood noted the amount of the loss and cited letters from victims that she called "often heartbreaking" -- including some whose losses prevented them from retiring, buying a home or sending their children to college.
"These weren’t mistakes," Wood said. "He was running what he called a shell game."
Simmons, who had wooed a mother of three in order to get her to invest more than $4 million she got from a divorce settlement, pleaded for mercy. He asked U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood to spare him from prison so he could take care of his 10-year-old son.
The judge rejected the request, calling his actions “appalling and tragic.”
The case is U.S. v. Simmons, 17-cr-00127, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan.)