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A popular radio host who served time for fraud said he wishes he had sought help for childhood sexual abuse, which he now believes contributed to the gambling issues at the heart of his prison conviction.
Craig Carton, 51, was one of the hosts of the Boomer and Carton sports radio program when he got in over his head with gambling debts. As the new HBO documentary "Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth" shows, he lost millions at casinos while trying to maintain his gambling addiction. Carton was arrested in 2017, which ended his successful career at WFAN, for defrauding people to pay off those debts.
Soon, the radio host known for his zany sense of humor was a prison inmate. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2019 for securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit those offenses. Before his sentencing, he pleaded with a judge for leniency while pointing to childhood trauma.
“[...] In this case repeated instances of childhood rape and other childhood traumas — plays a material role in a defendant’s commission of a criminal act,” Carton’s defense wrote in a memo filed in court last year, Newsday reported at the time.
The lawyers blamed the sexual abuse in their memo for their client’s gambling problems.
“There was some skepticism, I think: Is he saying this just to get time off his sentence or sympathy?” Martin Dunn, one of the directors behind the new documentary, told Oxygen.com. “But he was very clear that had written a chapter about sex abuse for his book that was published in 2013.”
In the lawyers’ 2019 letter, they included a copy of an unpublished chapter from Carton’s biography, “Loudmouth: Tales (and Fantasies) of Sports, Sex, and Salvation from Behind the Microphone,” which got cut from the 2013 book’s publication, according to Newsday. In the omitted chapter, Carton wrote about being sexually abused as a child, so his defense team included it to make it clear he wasn’t making the abuse up.
Carton dived into the childhood abuse in "Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth,” claiming that he was molested at a summer camp.
“I was abused every night for eight weeks, something I withheld for more than 30 years of my life and I still had shame over it,” he said in the documentary, adding this secret “gnawed” at him and kept him from living a full life. Carton said that while he finally felt comfortable enough to write about it in 2013, publisher Simon and Schuster decided it didn't fit with the jovial tone of the book.
“I was 11 years old,” he wrote in the chapter, which he read aloud in the documentary. “My innocence had been shattered and would be repeated throughout the summer of 1980.”
He claimed the first night when the abuse started was the last time he ever cried.
As he read the excerpt, his demeanor — which has often been characterized as playful and even brash — changed completely, the filmmakers claim.
“Craig is a guy who is very used to being in front of the camera, very used to being on the microphone but when he read that passage from his book, it really sort of laid him bare,” Dunn told Oxygen.com. “It was very poignant, very emotional during the filming process. [...] Craig was very emotionally torn when he read it.”
Dunn and fellow director Marie McGovern noted that Carton has regretted that he didn’t bring up the abuse on the air at WFAN when retired college football coach Jerry Sandunsky was exposed for sexually abusing young boys for decades.
“The worst moment for me in not coming forward was being on the radio during the whole Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State,” Carton himself stated in “Wild Card.”
The documentary includes a clip of Carton getting heated and angry while discussing the case on the radio.
“The anger when he talked about Sandusky on the air was extraordinary,” Dunn said. “I was actually listening in my car that day when it happened and it was really startling how his persona changed from this really happy-go-lucky guy to a very, very angry and emotional guy on air.”
McGovern told Oxygen.com that Carton’s traumatic past gives insight into Carton’s anger during that case as well as his own criminal behavior. She said that because he felt like he was living a lie for so long, he became good at lying. Dunn also said Carton regrets not talking about the abuse or seeking help for it earlier in life. Now that it is all in the open, the filmmakers hope that it will help his healing.
“For a guy who has made his whole career out of this testosterone-laded sports manly-man industry to come out with that, I think took a lot of guts,” McGovern said.
Carton was released from prison in June.
“Wild Card” debuts on HBO at Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. EST. It will be available for streaming on HBO Max.
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