On the eve of trial, a once-powerful Miami Beach concert promoter pleaded guilty Friday to ripping off a single investor — though his federal plea deal still leaves him vulnerable to prison for the rest of his life.
Jack Utsick, who produced tours for Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson and other superstars, faces up to 17 years in prison and must repay more than $169 million to thousands of his investors, many of whom were retired commercial airline pilots like him.
But Utsick’s defense attorneys said their 73-year-old client is ailing and broke, factors that could help him obtain lighter punishment at his sentencing Aug. 23 before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga.
“We will be asking for a substantially lower sentence,” said Washington, D.C., lawyer Eric Lisann, who is working on the defense with Miami attorney David Weinstein.
Utsick was charged in a nine-count mail fraud indictment of diverting millions from thousands of his investors in what authorities described as a Ponzi scheme to pay for a pair of luxury condos at Portofino tower on South Beach, collector cars, artwork and other personal expenses between 1996 and 2006.
In his plea deal, however, Utsick pleaded guilty to one mail-fraud count of ripping off $540,000 from a Massachusetts investor.
Extradited from Brazil in late 2014, Utsick has been held at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami.
Before his arrest, Utsick ran his concert promotion business from his twin condos on South Beach, organizing tours for Elton John, the Rolling Stones and other marquee musicians in the United States and Europe.
But by 2006, huge debts started piling up — millions of dollars that he owed to former colleagues in the airline industry who had invested in his business, Worldwide Entertainment, according to prosecutors John Gonsoulin and Ron Davidson.
Utsick’s company, Worldwide Entertainment, was placed in receivership while the Securities and Exchange Commission pursued a lawsuit accusing him of fraud.
Initially, the SEC determined Utsick and two former partners were selling unregistered securities to finance concerts featuring bands that included Santana, the Pretenders and Aerosmith, according to court records.
Then, the agency discovered that Utsick actually lost money on most venues, though he had claimed to be earning millions of dollars each year. Utsick eventually used money from new investors to pay off old ones until the scheme collapsed.
In all, the concert promoter was accused of pocketing just over $4 million of more than $300 million that some 3,300 investors put into his business over nearly a decade, according to court records.
In the SEC case, U.S. District Judge Paul Huck imposed a final settlement ruling, ordering Utsick to pay back about $4.1 million, plus interest. Utsick appealed the ruling.
Ustick’s only asset is an estimated $45 million life insurance policy, which has remained viable because his former company’s receiver has been paying the premiums. When he dies, the proceeds would go to his investment victims.
The receiver already sold off Ustick’s other major assets: equity stakes in the theatrical rights to the popular show, Dirty Dancing, and in a New Zealand arena, court records show.