(Reuters) - U.S. authorities on Friday unveiled criminal charges against two men accused of running a Ponzi scheme that swindled investors in a purported ticket-reselling business for popular events, such as Adele concerts and the smash Broadway musical "Hamilton."
Joseph Meli and Steven Simmons were arrested on Friday, and criminally charged with securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan.
Meli and another defendant, Matthew Harriton, were also charged in a related U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil case, as were two companies known as Advance Entertainment that one or both controlled.
Lawyers for the defendants could not immediately be identified.
Authorities said the defendants raised millions of dollars from investors who thought they were helping fund the purchase of large blocks of tickets for major concerts and musicals that could be resold profitably, providing double-digit returns.
But according to the SEC, only a small portion of the $81 million raised from at least 125 investors in 13 U.S. states went toward the ticket resale business.
The SEC said at least $48 million was used to repay earlier investors, while other sums were spent on jewelry, private school tuition, gambling at Atlantic City casinos, and other personal expenses.
Court papers quote Meli as having told an alleged fellow schemer, who decided to cooperate with prosecutors, in a December 30 phone call that "it would be impossible for anyone on planet earth unless you told them ... to know what we did."
"Hamilton" won 11 Tony Awards last year, including for best musical.
The cases are U.S. v. Simmons et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-mag-00647; and SEC v Meli et al in the same court, No. 17-00632.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)