Connecticut fund manager linked to ‘Hamilton’ Ponzi case pleads guilty

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By Nate Raymond | NEW YORK

NEW YORK A Connecticut hedge fund manager has
pleaded guilty in a case linked to an alleged Ponzi scheme
involving the resale of tickets for popular events, including
smash Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

Mark Varacchi, founder of Sentinel Growth Fund Management
LLC, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday to
conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud charges and is
cooperating with authorities, according to court records.

The plea came a day before the U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission filed a civil lawsuit accusing Varacchi, a resident
of Norwalk, Connecticut, and Sentinel of stealing $3.95 million
from investors.

That lawsuit contains details about Sentinel matching that
of a previously-unnamed hedge fund that prosecutors said was
operated as a Ponzi scheme with the help of two men, including
one, Joseph Meli, implicated in the “Hamilton” case.

Meli, 42, was charged last week in connection with the hedge
fund scheme and a related fraud involving a ticket business,
which the SEC called an $81 million Ponzi scheme that raised
money from investors to buy and resell tickets for hit shows.

Those included “Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony Awards last
year, the SEC said.

Meli’s arrest came after prosecutors said the hedge fund’s
founder agreed to cooperate with authorities and record
conversations with him and Steven Simmons, both of whom they
said helped fraudulently solicit investments for the fund.

Varacchi, 47, has agreed to cooperate with authorities,
according to his plea agreement. His lawyer, Rodney Villazor,
declined to comment.

A lawyer for Simmons, who was head of alternative
investments at Sideris Capital Partners, declined to comment.
Meli’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Varacchi pleaded guilty to charges that he misappropriated
funds from his hedge fund investors from 2013 to 2016, and used
money from other investors to repay them.

He also admitted to having schemed to defraud his prior
employer, a New York-based hedge fund, by embezzling money and
taking kickbacks from vendors who submitted inflated invoices,
court papers said.

In April, Taran Asset Management LLC sued Varacchi, its
former chief operations officer, accusing him and a risk
management service provider he hired of embezzling $980,000.

That lawsuit was settled in June. In court papers, the SEC
said Varacchi misused investor funds to settle a lawsuit by his
prior employer. The SEC did not identify Taran by name.

Taran’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

The case is U.S. v. Varacchi, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of New York, No. 17-cr-76.

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