Mark Sanchez, who now plays with the Denver Broncos. (Photo: AP)

Former New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and other professional athletes said they were cheated out of millions of dollars in a Ponzi-like scheme orchestrated by an investment advisor who appealed to their Christian faith.

Sanchez and Major League Baseball pitchers Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt were defrauded out of about $30 million, according to a recently unsealed U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit in Dallas federal court. The athletes all used the same broker, Ash Narayan, formerly of RGT Capital Management. The advisor gained their trust through religion and their interest in charitable works, the SEC said.

Narayan concealed multiple conflicts of interest from investors, the SEC said in its lawsuit against him. He directed the athletes’ cash to The Ticket Reserve Inc., which allows fans to reserve face-value tickets to sporting events where the teams have yet to be determined, the SEC said. He was on the company’s board of directors, owned more than 3 million shares and was its primary fundraiser — raising more than 90 percent of the company’s investment capital, the agency said.

“Mr. Narayan has always sought to act in his clients’ best interests,” his lawyer, Howard Privette, said in an e-mail. “Accordingly, he will continue to work with the SEC to ensure that this matter is resolved in the most favorable manner for those clients.”

Nick Sanchez, Mark’s brother and attorney, didn’t have an immediate comment. Representatives for Peavy and Oswalt didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Requests Ignored

All three athletes sought low-risk, conservative investment strategies, the SEC said. Narayan ignored their requests and instead invested in TTR even as the company’s financial conditions were in distress. TTR’s chief executive officer wrote to Narayan in a May 2014 e-mail: “To be sure, our revenue sucks. Our balance sheet is a disaster.”

“Narayan exploited athletes and other clients who trusted him to manage their finances. He fraudulently funneled their savings into a money-losing business and his own pocket,” said Shamoil T. Shipchandler, head of the SEC’s Fort Worth office.

Sanchez, who’s set to be the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos this year, met Narayan soon after entering the National Football League in 2009, he said in a court filing. The two attended the same church in California, and Sanchez said he believed the advisor was a devout Christian and highly qualified. The quarterback had his NFL paychecks deposited directly into a brokerage account.

Documents Forged

In mid-2011, Sanchez agreed to make a $100,000 investment in TTR. Instead, Narayan forged documents and directed more than $7 million of Sanchez’s money to the ticket company, the SEC said. In total, Narayan transferred more than $33 million from all investors to TTR, earning almost $2 million in hidden compensation. The vast majority of Peavy’s personal wealth — about $15 million — was invested in the ticket company without his authorization, he said. Mark Loretta, then a teammate of Peavy on the San Diego Padres, introduced him to Narayan around 2004-2005. Peavy, now on the the San Francisco Giants, said he trusted Narayan because he was a certified public accountant, which wasn’t true, and because he was very involved in charitable causes including churches overseas. Peavy said he last spoke with Narayan in March, and was promised he’d get all his money back. He said he’s yet to receive any of the funds used to invest in TTR.

Oswalt, who retired in 2014 after spending most of his career with the Houston Astros, met Narayan around 2002-2003. At one point, about 80 percent of Oswalt’s major league salary was directed to the investment account. Narayan invested at least $7 million of Oswalt’s money into TTR, without his authorization, according to the complaint.

RGT Lawsuit

RGT sued Narayan, TTR CEO Richard Harmon and other company officials in Chicago federal court in May, claiming they breached their fiduciary duties by mismanaging the company’s financial affairs and amassing excessive debt.

TTR was cash-strapped for years and unable to generate sufficient revenue to cover its operating expenses, RGT said in the lawsuit. As a result, company officials routinely solicited new investor money to cover expenses, including making payments to earlier investors.

The company officials “solicited millions of dollars in loans to Ticket Reserve from investors, with no reasonable basis to believe that Ticket Reserve’s revenues would fund the repayment of those loans,” RGT said

The case is Securities and Exchange Commission v. Ash Narayan, 16-cv-1417, U.S. District Court, Norther District of Texas (Dallas).

— Related on ThinkAdvisor:

Copyright 2018 Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.