WFAN sports-talk celebrity Craig Carton was arrested Wednesday and charged with a securities and wire fraud conspiracy in Manhattan federal court in a case involving an alleged multimillion-dollar discount-ticket Ponzi scheme used to pay casino debts.
Carton, who hosts a morning talk show with former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, and co-defendant Michael Wright lured investors by falsely claiming they had arrangements with promoters and entertainers to get discounted tickets for resale at a profit, prosecutors alleged.
But in fact, according to a criminal complaint, Carton and Wright had no such arrangement, and used the funds they raised to pay personal debts and to repay prior investors in the scheme.
The government said the scheme also involved an unnamed co-conspirator, referred to as “CC-1,” who is currently charged in Manhattan in a similar ticket reselling scheme. A separate Securities and Exchange Commission complaint filed Wednesday suggested CC-1 was Joseph Meli, a New York man who was charged criminally in January.
The SEC complaint said Carton, Meli and five corporate entities controlled by Carton began the ticket reselling scheme in mid-2016 when Carton had accrued millions in gambling debts to casinos and others individuals.
Carton, the SEC said, used fake agreements for discounted blocks of tickets from artists such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Roger Waters, Metallica and Barbra Streisand to lure investors, with Carton alone ripping off $2 million from one investor and Carton and Meli together ripping off $3.6 million from two investors.
The criminal complaint quoted from emails in which “CC-1,” Wright and Carton discussed cleaning up debts of $1 million, and Wright listed one option as, “Run to Costa Rica, change name and start life all over again” and added, “May not be an option.”
The complaint also quoted emails discussing Carton’s negotiation of $10 million revolving loan fund with a hedge fund in which he used phony purported agreements with a concert promotion company to close the deal, and the men discussed using the loan to repay debts instead of buying tickets.
When the first payment of $700,000 on the deal was wired to the three, Carton wired $200,000 to a casino and wired another $500,000 to an individual who had loaned him money.
They later got the hedge fund to provide an additional $1.9 million, and then had the fund wire $2 million to a sports and entertainment company for tickets — only to then tell the company the money had been wired in error, and have them redirect it to the conspirators.
From there, prosecutors said, $966,000 went to Wright’s bank account and $700,000 to Carton, which he used to pay debts to casinos.
“Craig Carton and Michael Wright deceived investors and raised millions of dollars through misrepresentation and outright lies,” said Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim. “ . . . Behind all the talk, the Wright and Carton show was just a sham designed to fleece investors.”
Carton, 48, of New York City, and Wright, 41, of Upper Saddle River, N.J., both face up to 45 years in prison. They are expected to appear in court later Wednesday. CBS Radio, the parent company of WFAN, issued a statement that read, “We are aware of the situation and are cooperating with authorities.”
Before coming to WFAN, Carton made a name for himself at a station in central New Jersey. The show has been a morning staple on WFAN since 2007. Esiason addressed the situation on Wednesday’s show.
“I am aware now why Craig is not here this morning. Unfortunately, he was arrested this morning,” Esiason said. “Over here at the station they’re aware of it as well. They’re cooperating with authorities. I’m taken aback by it and surprised, just like I’m sure everybody else is. I have no other information. There’s nothing else I can say . . .
“So I guess there will be more news to come, I’m sure, from somewhere, but it’s not going to come from me, because I don’t have any. That’s all there is about that. Not easy.”
Carton and Esiason consistently have rated No. 1 in the New York market among men ages 25 to 54, the key demographic by which sports radio stations measure their success. Monday was the 10th anniversary of their first show together, as the replacement for the long-running “Imus in the Morning.” Carton noted at the start of Tuesday’s show that it marked the beginning of their 11th year together.
With Neil Best