Prosecutors with the Southern District of New York say a co-defendant of former sports radio host Craig Carton should face 21 to 27 months in prison for his role in a Ponzi scheme that stole millions from a hedge fund to pay off loan sharks, casino gambling debts and personal loans.
Michael Wright, a strip club manager in Manhattan who underwrote gambling loans for Carton, pled guilty to fraud charges in the case last September. Roughly a month later, a jury in Manhattan convicted Carton, the former co-host of WFAN’s Boomer and Carton morning show, on fraud charges for misappropriating more than $4 million. Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office say Carton and co-conspirator Joe Meli, along with Wright, tricked investors to buy into phony pools of high-demand tickets for concerts and sporting events. Instead of buying tickets for resale, authorities allege, Wright and Meli conspired with Carton to steal the funds and, in Carton’s case, pay off old investors and casinos where Carton had racked up large debts. Meli pled guilty to fraud charges in October 2017 and last April was sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison.
Wright, who co-owns the Manhattan strip club Sapphire 39, asked for leniecy, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, saying his gentlemen’s club was expanding and required his personal attention.
“Wright’s absence will not threaten the viability of the strip club (which is in the process of opening a third location), nor does he possess any unique skills such that only he can operate the strip club” Berman wrote in the filing, saying the 21 to 27 month sentence falls within federal guidelines.
Prosecutors say the men used phony documents to trick investors into thinking Carton had an inside deal to buy tickets from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In December 2016, Carton tricked a hedge fund into wiring $2 million to Barclays Center for a phony ticketing agreement. He then called executives at the arena and “falsely stated that the wire had been sent in error, and directed that the wire be rerouted” to an account “controlled by Wright.”
Prosecutors say Wright used $250,000 from the wire to pay down a home equity line of credit and pay off a $690,000 gambling debt to Desmond Finger, a loan shark and manager at Sapphire 39 who was granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony in the case. Wright also allegedly transfered $950,000 to Carton to pay back gambling debts.
“Wright even lied to Carton and Meli, his partners in crime, for the purpose of obtaining more of the Hedge Fund’s investment,” Berman writes, saying he misrepresented to the two men that he owed Finger $966,000 and pocketed the difference.
In his defense, Wright’s attorneys argued that the strip club chief operating officer was “too busy” at his day job to realize he was participating in fraud, but Berman contested that, saying Wright “was apparently not ‘too busy’ with his work at the Strip Club to carry on intensive e-mail and text message communications with Meli and Carton about the ticket scheme, open bank accounts to further the scheme, or conduct multiple wire transfers of investor funds.”
Berman said the court should impose a $346,128 judgement against Wright and a $1.6 million in restitution. Wright is scheduled to be sentenced March 7. Carton will likely be sentenced after April 5. On Thursday, Carton’s attorney Derrelle Janey requested his hearing be moved from March 15 to April 5 so that a report from a clinical pyschologist could be completed and submitted to the court ahead of sentencing.