Two men were hit with criminal charges after being accused of running a $81 million Ponzi scheme that revolved around on-demand tickets for shows such as Adele and Hamilton.
Joseph Meli and Steven Simmons were charged Friday with securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy after bilking over 125 investors in a fake scheme built around the lucrative secondary ticket market, Reuters reports. Meli and another man, Matthew Harriton, also face a separate civil fraud suit filed by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Authorities claim that Meli and Simmons raised money by convincing investors they were acquiring large blocks of tickets for sought-after concerts and musicals, which they would then resell on the secondary market for inflated prices.
For instance, the men told investors they had a deal with a Hamilton producer to acquire 35,000 tickets to the Tony-winning Broadway show, even though no agreement was ever in place.
According to the Boston Globe, Meli and Simmons promised investors they would receive their principal back plus 10 percent annualized return and 50 percent of leftover profits.
However, the two men instead funneled $51 million of those investments into their own companies, which they then used to repay earlier investors alongside personal expenses like jewelry, private school tuition and gambling at Atlantic City casinos.
The Ponzi scheme unraveled in late 2016 when a fellow conspirator decided to cooperate with authorities. Reuters reports that in a December 30th phone call, Meli gloated to the witness, “It would be impossible for anyone on planet Earth unless you told them … to know what we did.”
In August, New York senator Chuck Schumer and Hamilton creator Lin-Manual Miranda teamed to urge Congress to pass legislation that would crack down on ticket scalping bots; according to Schumer’s office, bots managed to grab over 20,000 Hamilton tickets during Miranda’s run in the title role, with scalpers making $15.5 million off those tickets on the resale market.
The Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act ultimately passed through Congress and was passed into law by President Obama.