Accused Of $95 Million Fraud, 'Hamilton' Ponzi Schemer Strikes A Plea Agreement
Joseph Meli, accused of defrauding some 130 investors of some $95 million in a scheme framed as the resale of tickets to Hamilton and other events, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of securities fraud. Previously he had entered a plea of not guilty to five counts of fraud and conspiracy.
Meli and two associates claimed to investors that they had a relationship with the producer of Hamilton and could purchase tickets in bulk to the Broadway smash and other popular attractions, and resell them on the secondary market for a tidy profit. Following the classic structure of a Ponzi scheme, Melli and his associates — including Steven Simmons, who pleaded guilty on Monday — would pay off older investors with the investments of new ones.
Meli faced 85 years in prison and tens of millions of dollars in fines if he received the maximum sentence on each of the five charges.
The plea agreement came eight days after the filing of a motion by his attorney accusing the government of gathering some of the information for its case in a way that violated New York's Rules of Professional Conduct.
Meli now faces a reduced sentence, scheduled to be handed down in January, of between six-and-a-half and just over eight years — along with a fine between $25,000 and the $5 million.
Meli's attorney, Dan Fetterman, accused the government of using its confidential witness in the case to elicit "a series of rambling, contradictory statements" from Meli, in the absence of his attorney. In his motion Fetterman writes the tactic violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter.
The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York declined a request for more information, but did issue a press release on Meli's plea.
"Mr. Meli is pleased that the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has agreed to dismiss the charges against him concerning the Sentinel Ponzi scheme," Fetterman says in a statement provided to NPR, "and he looks forward to putting the case involving his ticket reselling business behind him."
The industry which allowed Meli to defraud his investors — secondary ticketing, or "scalping" in the states and "touting" in the U.K. — is a contentious one, even when massive fraud isn't in the picture. Ticketmaster, the world's largest ticket-selling company, has its own subsidiary, TicketsNow, which allows customers to resell their tickets. The U.K.'s Department of Media, Culture and Sport announced a package of regulations earlier this year to rein in the practice. At its root are "bots," automated computer programs which can sweep up swaths of seats to events at face value, allowing the owner of the bot to resell them for a profit. While the U.K. has no rules on ticket resales, many states in the U.S. do not allow the resale of tickets for prices higher than face value. But not all — Minnesota, for example, legalized resales in 2007, which led to what the Star Tribune called a "ticketing epidemic" in the state.