Two men were charged Friday with roles in Ponzi schemes that cheated wealthy people, including some who believed they were investing in ticket businesses for popular shows like an Adele concert and Broadway's Hamilton. Joseph Meli, 42, of Manhattan, and Steven Simmons, 48, of Wilton, Conn., were arrested on charges alleging they enticed wealthy individuals to make multimillion-dollar investments, the AP reports. The SEC said in a civil complaint that the Ponzi schemes led people in 13 states to invest $81 million. Meli's scheme included investments in businesses that would buy large blocks of tickets for major concerts and musicals, authorities said. The SEC said at least $51 million of the $81 million was diverted to pay off other investors or for personal expenses of the co-conspirators.
Simmons wasn't charged in the civil complaint, but both men were charged criminally with conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud. According to a criminal complaint, the fraud stretched from November 2015 through January, and the Ponzi schemes developed as investors demanded their money. "Meli allegedly made up out of whole cloth purported deals to buy Broadway tickets that he could later sell at a profit," Deputy US Attorney Joon H. Kim says. "But as alleged, Meli was just robbing Peter to pay Paul." William F. Sweeney Jr., head of the FBI's New York office, notes that the defendants had joked about their Ponzi scheme, saying it was a "shell game." The men were freed on $1 million bail each after US Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV rejected a prosecutor's request that they be held without bail. (Read more Ponzi scheme stories.)