April 26, 2017 / 10:34 PM / 2 years ago

Judge issues injunction in SEC's 'Hamilton' Ponzi case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction freezing assets belonging to the alleged operators of a Ponzi scheme centered on the resale of tickets to the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton,” concerts by British singer Adele, and other popular shows.

Joseph Meli and his wife, Jessica Meli, exit U.S. Federal Court in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 27, 2017, after Meli and Steven Simmons were charged with running a criminal Ponzi scheme that swindled investors in a purported ticket-reselling business for popular events, such as Adele concerts and the smash Broadway musical "Hamilton". REUTERS/Nate Raymond

U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in Manhattan also put the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil fraud case against Joseph Meli and Matthew Harriton over the alleged fraud on hold, so that federal prosecutors could pursue a related criminal case against Meli and another defendant.

Lawyers for Meli and Harriton had supported putting the SEC case on hold.

The SEC accused the men of raising more than $97 million from at least 138 investors in 17 U.S. states, using some of the money to repay early investors, and diverting other sums for gambling, jewelry, private school tuition and other expenses.

According to the SEC, Meli and Harriton had promised double-digit returns from reselling blocks of tickets to Broadway shows such as “Hamilton” and the upcoming “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”; concerts by Adele, Metallica and Nine Inch Nails; and a festival with Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones.

Stanton said the injunction freezing the defendants’ assets and barring them from raising more money was appropriate because the SEC had “made a substantial showing of likelihood of success” in showing that they had violated U.S. securities laws.

In the criminal case, Meli and co-defendant Steven Simmons were accused of running a similar scheme that defrauded people who thought they were investing in a hedge fund.

Meli and Simmons have pleaded not guilty in that case, while a lawyer for Harriton has said his client was a “victim” in the alleged ticket resale scheme.

A lawyer for Meli did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an April 6 court filing, he had said letting the SEC civil case go ahead would unfairly burden Meli’s constitutional right to defend himself in the criminal case.

The case is SEC v Meli et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-00632.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Diane Craft

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