TAMPA — A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a St. Petersburg man who conned three people out of close to $2 million in a concert ticket resale scheme to 10 years in prison.
Thomas Coelho, 53, was also ordered to pay more than $1.8 million in restitution and to have no contact with the people from whom he stole.
Calling him a danger to the public, U.S. District Judge Thomas Barber noted the large amount Coelho had stolen, and his efforts to con people even after he’d been jailed.
“You have dug yourself into a very, very deep hole here,” Barber told him.
The sentence was far above the three to four years federal guidelines suggested, but less than the 20-year maximum.
Coelho, gray-haired and clad in orange, stood with arms crossed and rocked on his feet as he listened to the prosecutor describe his crimes.
“Any apology, no matter how sincere, would come across as insincere,” Coelho told the judge. He said he didn’t want leniency and vowed to work to pay back what he stole.
“All I can do is state how sorry I am and how embarrassed I am,” he said.
He pleaded guilty in March to a wire fraud charge related to a multi-year scam in which he convinced people he could get tickets to high-profile concerts featuring artists like Adele, Fleetwood Mac and Phil Collins. He’d get the victims to invest funds to purchase the tickets, with the idea that he could then resell the tickets for a profit.
But once the victims gave him their money, federal prosecutors said, Coelho simply used it for his own expenses.
He kept the scheme going, prosecutors said, by producing fake documents to make it appear he’d actually purchased tickets with the victims’ money. Prosecutors cited one example from 2016, when Coelho emailed one of the victims a PDF document that showed a wire transfer of $138,000 from Coelho’s bank account to a European event promotion company for the purchase of Adele tickets. The document was fake. No tickets had been purchased. No money had been sent.
Another victim, an elderly man, believed he had a “very close friendship” with Coelho, according to court records. He trusted him enough to send him a half-million dollars for the same ticket-sale venture. The man was drained of his entire life savings, prosecutors said.
One of the victims, Charles Duva, a physician, spoke about how he started to suspect the fraud after losing close to $1 million. He, too, had been befriended by Coelho.
“Mr. Coelho is an extreme danger to humanity,” Duva said. “He finds your weaknesses and goes right for your jugular, which is your pocketbook.”
When federal agents arrested him in April 2021, Coelho claimed he had monthly expenses of $12,000. He said he lived off savings — which the government found were nonexistent — and loans from friends, according to court records. He was released on bond, but jailed again months later after prosecutors learned he’d been talking with his victims, a violation of a court order.
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The government also learned that while on release, Coelho started a business, Premium Sunscreen Inc., and persuaded a single investor to give him more than $200,000 for the venture, but again used it for his own expenses, according to a sentencing memo. After he was jailed, Coelho continued to try to get people to send him money.
“He’s good at creating the façade of a real business and he’s good at creating the façade of a real relationship,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Jones said in court. “He will not stop.”
In recorded phone calls from jail, government lawyers heard him trying to persuade one of his victims to send him $40,000 for a private attorney. (He was represented in court by a public defender). They also heard him telling people he planned to claim he had a drug problem so he could get a shorter sentence, that he wanted to talk to the judge “off the record” so he could get out of jail, that he wanted one of his victims to register as an attorney with the jail so their calls wouldn’t be recorded.
In a sentencing memo, the government noted Coelho’s criminal history, which includes 16 prior arrests, all related to fraud. They said he faces seven civil judgments for various failed business deals, totaling more than $3 million.
Judge Barber asked what Coelho did with the money he took.
Coelho drifted into a convoluted tale, claiming he spent large amounts on what he described as legitimate businesses. He said he’d worked hard to build a business in the “entertainment space” and that he and a friend had invested thousands in a food product venture before someone else defrauded him. Nevertheless, he said, he wasn’t “making excuses.”
“I misappropriated a tremendous amount of money,” he said, “and there should be consequences.”
Judge Barber, as he announced the sentence, took note of the things Coelho had said in calls from jail.
“These are the actions of somebody who thinks they can beat the system,” Barber said.