MIAMI A former concert promoter who staged hundreds of shows around the world by top acts such as the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees and Rod Stewart was sentenced to more than 18 years in prison Tuesday for running the business as a $200 million fraud scheme.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga handed Jack Utsick, 73, close to the maximum sentence for his guilty plea in June to a mail fraud charge. The sentencing caps a decade-long case involving Worldwide Entertainment Inc., a Miami Beach concert promotion firm handling some of the world’s biggest acts that prosecutors say defrauded nearly 3,000 investors.
Altonaga was unmoved by pleas for leniency by Utsick and his lawyers, who contended he has long suffered from bipolar disorder that colored his business judgment and that he fully intended to turn the company’s fortunes around to repay his investors - many of them former airline pilots who lost their life savings or retirement money.
“It matters not, at the end of the day, whether on day one his intentions were good,” Altonaga said. “There are far too many victims who suffered far too many losses. Too many lives ruined.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gonsoulin said Worldwide Entertainment operated as a Ponzi scheme, with no real profits despite thousands of concerts by acts including Tina Turner, Aerosmith, David Bowe, Elton John and Britney Spears. Instead, the prosecutor said, Utsick was simply paying older investors with money from newer ones, all the while sending out statements from 1995 to 2006 falsely indicating they were getting double-digit returns.
“Ten years of lies about every single concert and every single tour making a profit,” Gonsoulin said. “These are lies, again and again and again.”
Utsick started Worldwide after retiring as a pilot for TWA in part because of his bipolar disorder diagnosis, testimony showed. Many of his investors were also pilots who were looking for a way to enhance their retirement savings or provide college money to children.
Utsick was initially sued in 2006 by the Securities and Exchange Commission over his attempts to recoup investor losses through the stock options market. That led to court-ordered appointment of a receiver who soon realized the company was operating as a fraud. Utsick eventually left for Brazil, where he was jailed and finally extradited in 2014 to face a U.S. criminal indictment.
In a rambling, tear-filled statement Tuesday, Utsick said he never sought to personally profit from others’ misfortune - indeed, there’s little evidence of the exotic cars, yachts and mansions common in many such fraud schemes - and that he could have eventually repaid everyone.
Utsick rejected prosecutors’ description of him as a fraud mastermind.
“I am not that person. I’m a good guy,” he said. “I always felt we could pay these people. To all the people - I’m so sorry.”
Over a three-day hearing, Utsick’s lawyers attempted to show he had plans in the works, such as a percentage of the “Dirty Dancing” theatrical production, that would have netted handsome profits if he had remained in control of Worldwide. There were also discussions about a possible lucrative joint tour with Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, according to testimony.
All told, investors were left with about $207 million in losses, according to court documents. The court-appointed receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, was able to recoup about $34 million that was distributed to many who had suffered losses. There is also a $55 million life insurance policy Utsick has that would eventually go to investors when he dies.
Many of the investor victims are still suffering today. George Ceshker, a 70-year-old former American Airlines pilot, said he lost about 40 percent of his retirement because of the fraud.
“I have never recovered. I will be 71 in October, still working, with no hope of ever retiring again,” he said in a letter to the judge.