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By Peter J. Nash

June 18, 2014

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It’s been 100 years since Babe Ruth made his debut in a Major League uniform but he remains the most revered athlete in American sports history.  The “Bambino” is still so popular that collectors are shelling out millions of dollars and bidding in online auctions on artifacts and autographs attributed to the man called the “Sultan of Swat.”  But getting a real Babe Ruth autograph in this day and age can be a challenge considering the fraud and forgery that has infiltrated the sports memorabilia industry and even the Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, is disturbed by the volume of fakes showing up on eBay and in every major auction house in the country.  Tosetti has been doing her part educating fans about the perils of collecting the Babe and in 2010 she endorsed Hauls of Shame’s “Operation Bambino” investigation which was launched to expose the Ruth forgery-rings that have become cottage industries.

The Babe’s granddaughter has even reached out to the FBI on several occasions to address the sales of forgeries attributed to her granddad and, although collectors have become more educated on how to spot Ruth fakes, law enforcement has done little to crack down on the proliferation of bad Ruth material in the marketplace.  With the assistance of several talented experts, however, “Operation Bambino” has made significant strides and in this report we pinpoint and identify one specific Ruth forgery-ring that was using Mastro Auctions as their delivery man for forgeries placed on photos, books, balls, Hall of Fame ephemera and even bats.

In the 1990s, the FBI’s “Operation Bullpen” took down a large ring of Ruth forgers headed by the Marino family, but their Ruthian creations were inferior to the examples that have been ushered into the hobby via Mastro Auctions and authenticated by PSA/DNA.  As Bill Mastro cooperates with the government and awaits his sentencing arising from the FBI’s Chicago-based Mastro investigation, it is possible that prosecutors could get to the bottom of the Ruth forgery epidemic with Mastro’s help pursuant to the terms of his plea agreement. In Federal Court last week, Mastro’s sentencing was postponed once again until October and, as recent news reports indicate, other auction houses like Grey Flannel are facing similar scrutiny as Mastro  cooperates with the Feds.

Babe Ruth's granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti (left) has endorsed "Operation Bambino" while the FBI is currently continuing their investigation into Bill Mastro and his former auction business that distributed scores of Ruth forgeries.

In its current auction, Grey Flannel offered the work of one rogue-Ruth forger who placed phony autographs of Ruth and Lou Gehrig on a counterfeit baseball.  The signatures are almost identical to forgeries exposed in the 1990’s and the ball was debunked by comparing its stamping, lacing and other characteristics to genuine AL balls from the period.  In response to a Hauls of Shame report, Grey Flannel removed the fraudulent lot from its sale along with the two letters of authenticity from PSA/DNA and JSA signed by the so-called experts Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence.

The Grey Flannel debacle is reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding our last “Operation Bambino” report (Part 5) published last year when Robert Edward Auctions sold the now infamous forged Ruth photo inscribed to Pride of the Yankees star Gary Cooper.   REA’s Rob Lifson sold that fake despite the fact that an autograph reference book written by Ron Keurajian specifically identified the same photo as a forgery and illustrated why.

But as reported in our last article, it has been established that both REA and JSA had direct knowledge that the “Sincerely Yours, Babe Ruth” salutation on the Cooper photograph matched another nearly identical Ruth salutation included in a Jimmy Spence-created display of 1927 Yankee cut signatures that appeared in REA’s 2008 sale.  In its catalog, REA identified the Ruth signature as genuine, but the auctioneer posted an addendum later stating Spence said the signature was not real and “Secretarial.” But it wasn’t a secretarial signature, it was an outright forgery, and along with the Gary Cooper photo it would become a “Rosetta Stone” for uncovering Ruth forgeries.

In 2005, PSA placed a full-page ad in SCD featuring a forged Ruth photo accompanied by a PSA/DNA LOA signed by Joe Orlando and Steve Grad (inset). The signature matched the one that appeared on the inscribed Ruth photo to Gary Cooper first sold at Mastro in 1999 and at REA in 2013 (inset) with an LOA from ex-PSA employee Jimmy Spence (middle right).

Spence should have recognized that the forgery style mimicked another handwriting example featured in a 2004 full-page SCD ad placed by his former employer, PSA/DNA.  The signature on the photo in that ad matched almost exactly the signature Spence included in his 1927 Yankee display and also mirrored the inscribed Ruth photo to Gary Cooper that first appeared with a Spence LOA in a 1999 Mastro auction.   That same forgery appeared again in yet another large PSA/DNA ad to promote “Autograph Authentication and Grading” in April of 2005.  By all indications PSA/DNA opined that the forgery was authentic and it was signed off in a published LOA by Steve Grad without Jimmy Spence, who had already left PSA to establish his own business, James Spence Authentication (JSA).

What is indisputable is that by 2005 PSA/DNA, Joe Orlando and Steve Grad were using a forged Babe Ruth signature in consumer advertisements offering their “expertise” and authentication services for a fee.  The scenario is distinctly similar to PSA’s well documented promotion of Bill Mastro’s fraudulent and trimmed T206 Honus Wagner card that was authenticated, graded and promoted by the outfit that is a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe (CLCT) which is traded on NASDAQ.  It was Bill Mastro’s concealment of his trimming of the Wagner card and his continued promotion of its high PSA-grade that contributed to the government indicting him in 2012.  Similarly, it appears that Spence continues to promote items he has previously authenticated even though he now knows that they are forgeries.

The forged Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper sold at Mastro and REA (left and bottom in red) matches exactly the "Sincerely, Babe Ruth" identified by JSA as "secretarial in REA in 2008 (top in red) and the same salutation appearing on the Ruth photo used by PSA in its 2005 SCD ad (right).

The Ruth forgery saga dates back almost fifteen years when collector John Rogers posted another ad in SCD alerting hobbyists of a slew of Ruth forgeries he had purchased.  Rogers noted that the signed photos he acquired exhibited “no pen pressure, mint condition black ink, no spreading of ink and no fountain pen stroke characteristics.”  Rogers made his discovery when he bought one photo signed “To John, Sincerely Babe Ruth” that matched exactly the inscription on a totally different photo in his collection.  Rogers said at the time, “These forgeries are not done with a forger’s pen and ink but with a high-tech laser printer.” According to Rogers the forger had replicated what he and others believed were genuine Ruth signatures on photos via the laser printer and PSA/DNA (headed by Spence at the time) certified them as genuine.   After Rogers and others uncovered the fraud, the “To John” photo was deemed a forgery and by 2010 the photo was utilized by PSA/DNA in its report of the “Ten Most Dangerous Autographs” which featured Babe Ruth as the forger’s number one target.  In the report, PSA posted an image of the forged Ruth photo with a caption that stated, “This Babe Ruth forgery would fool most people.”

PSA's Joe Orlando and Steve Grad published the "To John" Ruth forgery in their 2010 "Ten Most Dangerous Autographs" report which identified Babe Ruth as number one. For a genuine example, the report included the PSA Mint 10 single-signed Babe Ruth ball that would later sell for over $300,000 at Heritage Auctions (right).

As a result of our “Operation Bambino” investigation, Hauls of Shame has now identified a sizable group of other forgeries believed to be the handiwork of the same forger who produced the Babe Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper.  All of these forgeries have been authenticated by PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence and the majority of the items, which include photographs, bats, balls and Hall of Fame induction covers, were sold at Mastro Auctions and continue to be sold by auctions like REA.

Author Ron Keurajian identified these forgeries in a public forum in 2012 when McFarland published his book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs:  A Reference Guide, but he also discussed Ruth forgeries in SCD years earlier when PSA/DNA placed ads featuring the very same forged signatures Keurajian described.  Keurajian illustrated a test to check Ruth autographs by examining whether the signature had been signed in “bold up and down strokes that correlated into a signature that is large, uneven, almost whimsical.”  At the time, Keurajian suggested that collectors should focus on the bottom baseline of the signature and said, “The fake ones will be level as if written on a straight line.”  Keurajian was describing the work of the forger who had created the inscribed photo to Gary Cooper which he described as “too neat, too perfect.”

In the course of our investigation we have identified the handwriting styles of several Ruth forgers who have created exquisite fakes on baseballs and other mediums, but the creator of the Gary Cooper forgery is particularly noteworthy.  In uncovering this style of forgery several concerned individuals, including Ron Keurajian, offered their assistance in helping us determine which other Ruth forgeries were supplied to Mastro along with the Cooper photo.  As a result, we uncovered a steady stream of fakes that made their way into Mastro and MastroNet auctions in the late 1990s and early 2000s and when each of these alleged Ruth signatures was compiled and viewed collectively, the results were stunning.  After viewing the montage of Ruth forgeries one of the experts we spoke with said, “There is no possible way there are this many examples perfect to one another.  Ruth wouldn’t do this.  You and I wouldn’t do this in our own handwriting.”

Another expert recognized several similarities shared by the examples we chose and said, “The big tell tale (sign) on most of them seems to be in the “th” in “Ruth” which makes sense (because) that’s usually where a forger screws up, at the beginning and end of the signature.  Although Ruth did cross the “t” high and sometimes so high it completely missed the letter, in almost all of these it crosses in the exact same place and intersects into the “h.”  Another observation made revolved around the initial curved stroke of the “u” in “Ruth.”   One expert noted the prevalence of this characteristic in every example and told us, “The “u” in Ruth all curl right at or after the (capital) R.  Many times Ruth would curl inside the R or not curl much at all.”  Several experts also pointed out what Ron Keurajian identified in his book stating, “The baseline on each signature is very straight.”  In fact, when the illustrated signatures are put to Keurajian’s “straight-line” test, they all fail miserably.  All of the identified forgeries lack the bounce and “whimsical” nature of Ruth’s authentic handwriting.

Ruth Forgeries: (Left- Top to Bottom) Ruth "Sincerely" photo (PSA/DNA SCD ads); Gary Cooper Photo, (Mastro 1999; REA 2013); Cut from Spence 1927 Yankee Display, (REA 2008); Hotel Astor Ticket, (Mastro 2000); Game-Used H&B 125 bat (Mastro, 2005, Hunt 2013); 1939 HOF Induction Cover, (Mastro 1999); 1939 Induction Cover (Mastro 2000);Signed Book (Private Sale); (Right-Top to Bottom): Single-Signed "Sincerely" Ball (Mastro 1999); Signed 1938-43 HOF Plaque (REA, ); "To John" Photo, (PSA Article 2010); Pride of Yankees photo, (Mastro 2004); "Babe Ruth Story"-book, (Mastro, 2004); Babe Ruth Story book (Mastro, 1999); 1939 HOF Induction cover, (Mastro, 1999); Enlargement of "e-r-e" in "Sincerely" inscription appears as "r-r-r" in these forgeries.

Here are the alleged forgeries identified in our Operation Bambino investigation that further expose the long-standing incompetence and possible fraud of PSA/DNA and JSA. The evidence suggests that both companies continue to authenticate Ruth forgeries despite having knowledge that the items they are certifying are not genuine.  It should be noted that virtually all of these Ruth forgeries entered the hobby via Mastro Auctions:

Author Ron Keurajian identified the Babe Ruth inscribed photo to Gary Cooper (top) as a forgery but it sold at Mastro Auctions for over $25,000 in 1999 and for $11,000 at REA in 2013. PSA and Jimmy Spence authenticated the photo along with a single signed baseball (bottom) that appears to have been signed by the same person who forged the Cooper photo.

1. The Forged Babe Ruth Inscription to Gary Cooper & The Babe Ruth Single-Signed “Sincerely” Baseball-

Ron Keurajian goes into detail describing these Ruth  forgeries and specifically notes the Gary Cooper photo in his autograph reference book:

“One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest. He has Ruth’s hand allmost down to the fine points. Letter construction is very good but unlike a true master forger, he does not have the right speed. The forgeries are clean but methodic. The hand does not evidence a shakiness nor does it have the fast bouncy feel of a genuine Ruth. The lines are uniform and lack variant pressure. He has gone as far as to create a forged 8 x 10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper. Overall, these forgeries are very nice but they look too perfect.”

In our last “Operation Bambino” report, collector John Rogers recalled the first time he encountered the Cooper photo when it surfaced at a National Convention in the mid-1990s as part of several “too-good-to-be-true” offerings of signed materials ranging from Ruth to Walt Disney.  Rogers told us, “I remember at the time someone warning me to stay away from this guy’s stuff, including the Cooper photo.”

But despite that warning, the photo sold for over $25,000 at Mastro in 1999 and again for $15,000 at Legendary in 2010 as part of Bill Mastro’s collection.  When it sold in 2010 the photo came with a new LOA from JSA’s Jimmy Spence, but how could Spence have certified the Cooper inscription genuine when he had already determined the same type inscription was non-genuine two years earlier in the 2008 REA auction?

The “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” inscribed baseball also appeared in the same 1999 auction as the Cooper photograph and the similarities in the inscription and signature are remarkable.  In addition, Ruth rarely ever signed baseballs using the “Sincerely” salutation.  In the course of our investigation we have examined images of over one thousand alleged single-signed Ruth balls and have only been able to locate four examples signed “Sincerely.”  The Cooper forger executes his “Sincerely” without distinguishing between the letters “e-r-e” and they appear to be written either “e-e-e” or “r-r-r” and are written at the same height and level unlike Ruth who almost always distinguished between those letters and fluctuated up and down and never on a straight line, as noted by Keurajian.

Mastro auctions in 1999 featured these two non-genuine 1939 HOF Induction first-day covers with almost identical Ruth forgeries.

2.  The Forged 1939 HOF Induction First-Day Covers-

The Ruth signatures on these 1st Day covers are dead-giveaways that they were created by the same forger who penned the Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper.  The multi-signed covers also illustrate that the forger ventured beyond Ruth and signed the names of the entire 1939 HOF induction class.  These covers surfaced at the same time Jimmy Spence examined the now infamous “Honus Pocus” Honus Wagner autograph that magically appeared on a 1939 1st Day cover a few years after he had already authenticated it for Mastro when it was barely visible.

This forged 1939 HOF Induction First Day Cover was authenticated by Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA and appeared in a 2000 MastroNet auction. The lot failed to open at $3,500 suggesting collectors doubted its authenticity.

One forged First Day Cover appeared in Mastro’s April 1999 auction and sold for $8,651, but another one appeared in Mastro’s 2000 sale with a reserve of $3,500 and failed to sell.  Although the signatures were nearly identical and authenticated by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA and Mike Gutierrez for MastroNet, the cover’s failure to sell suggests that Spence was aware that hobbyists viewed the item as a forgery and avoided it.

The Hotel Astor party ticket with a forged Ruth signature was sold in a 2000 Mastro auction. The tickets were described as forgeries in Ron Keurajian's 2012 book (right).

3.  The Forged Babe Ruth Astor Hotel Tickets sold at Mastro in 2000-

Keurajian described these forgeries specifically in his book stating, “Another very well executed forgery can be found on Hotel Astor-Mayor’s Naval Committee ballroom tickets…..Again, very nice forgeries but too precise and too mechanical  to be genuine.”  One of these forged tickets appeared in Mastro Auctions’ sale in May of 2000 and sold for $1,995.  All of our experts agreed that this signature was executed by the same hand that created the Gary Cooper forgery and the “secretarial” cut identified by Jimmy Spence at REA in 2008.

This photo featuring forgeries of Ruth and other HOFers attending Connie Mack's 50th anniversary in baseball was sold by Mastro in 2000 for over $16,000.

4.  The Forged Connie Mack 50th Anniv. Photo Sold at Mastro in 2000-

This photograph, sold for over $16,000 in Mastro’s 2000 auction and also illustrates the forger’s skill in duplicating additional signatures including Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Eddie Collins, Frankie Frisch, George Sisler, Tris Speaker and Connie Mack.  The Ruth forgery is so similar to the other fakes we identified one expert told us, “You could almost superimpose each on top of one other and they are almost dead-on.”

This PSA-authenticated forgery was used by the company in print advertisements for grading services offered to collectors. The signature ia another identical match to the forgery found on the Gary Cooper photo sold by Mastro in 1999.

5.  The Forged Babe Ruth “Sincerely” Photo Portrayed In PSA/DNA Advertisements As Genuine-

PSA/DNA published this alleged signed photo of Babe Ruth as an authentic example to promote the PSA/DNA autograph grading program instituted in 2004. Ron Keurajian refers to this photo specifically as a forgery in his book:  “One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest.”

The fact that a company with the resources of PSA/DNA and Collectors Universe could regularly authenticate these Ruth forgeries over the course of fifteen years and also illustrate forgeries as genuine examples in published advertisements geared towards collectors shows just how serious the forgery epidemic is in the unregulated memorabilia industry.  the magnitude of the problem prompted one of our experts to call the entire TPA system a “house of cards.”

Mastro sold this photo featuring a Ruth forgery for over $8,000 in a 2004 Mastro sale.

6.  The Babe Ruth Forgery On A “Pride of the Yankees” Photo Sold By Mastro in 2004-

This photograph was sold in a 2004 Mastro sale for over $8,000 despite the fact that it featured a forged Babe Ruth signature that matched exactly the scrawl found on the photo inscribed to Gary Cooper that sold for over $25,000 at Mastro Auctions in 1999.  The photo also appears very similar to the laser-copy forgeries that surfaced in the hobby c. 2000.

The rare HOF plaque post card that sold at REA for over $44,000 in 2008 (left) bears a signature and inscription that appears to have been executed by the same forger who created the Gary Cooper inscription (top right) and the signed Hotel Astor ticket (middle, right).

7.  The Babe Ruth Forgery On A Baseball Hall Of Fame Plaque Post-Card-

It appears that the same forger who drafted the bogus Babe Ruth-signed Astor Hotel tickets and the inscribed photograph to Gary Cooper also tried his hand on one of the scarcest mediums known that could feature a Ruth signature–an early Hall of Fame post-card plaque.  The example we identified in our investigation was a rare 1938-43 style post card allegedly signed by Ruth that was the precursor to the later B&W Albertype HOF plaque postcards.  The example that Hauls of Shame and other experts identified as a forgery was sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 2008 for $44,062.50.  The alleged Ruth autograph was encapsulated authentic by PSA/DNA and came with a LOA from James Spence of JSA.

When the “Sincerely” inscription and Ruth signature were compared against forged examples including the Astor Hotel ticket and the Gary Cooper photograph the similarities were striking.  The pen pressure, spacing, letter construction and even the ink used for the alleged Ruth inscription all suggested that the plaque post card was another well-done forgery in the same family as the examples identified in Ron Keurajian’s book.  In particular, it is difficult to distinguish between the “e-r-e” letters in “Sincerely” which appear as “r-r-r,” which is another tell-tale sign of this particular forger’s work. In its auction catalog, REA and Rob Lifson described the signed plaque as “incredible” and noted it was so rare that: “Even Barry Halper was never able to locate an authentic signed sepia Hall of Fame postcard of Ruth, and in his collecting career he was able to find just about everything associated with Ruth.”  It could be that Halper never acquired one because this forger’s material appears to have hit the market just as he was liquidating his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.

The signature found on this game-used Ruth bat is a dead ringer for the known forgeries circulating through the hobby since the 1990s. Mastro sold this bat for $75,000 in 2005 and Hunt Auctions sold it for the same price in 2013 although it had an estimate of $150,000-$200,000.

8.  The Babe Ruth Forgery On A Game-Used Ruth Bat That Sold For $75,000 at Mastro & Hunt Auctions-

Another example of the TPA-authentication of an alleged Ruth forgery is this bat which sold at Mastro Auctions in 2005 for $72,207.  The game-used Ruth bat came with LOAs from  Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence of JSA certifying that the signature on the barrel of the bat was genuine.  PSA’s John Taube further attested that the bat was game-used as did Troy Kinunen and Dave Bushing of MEARS who gave the bat a grade of A-8.  But the signature placed on the bat appears to be another dead-ringer for the Ruth forgeries created by the same person who penned the Gary Cooper inscription.

The same bat reappeared in the Hunt Auctions sale in February of 2013 with an estimated value of “$100,000-150,000″ and an LOA from JSA certifying the signature and two other letters of authenticity from PSA/DNA and MEARS who graded the bat as an “A-9.”b  Hunt described the autograph stating, “Babe Ruth fountain pen signature on reverse barrel  (rating 7 to 7/8 out of 10) is not only an extremely desirable trait in a Ruth game bat but further serves to place the bat literally “in his hands.”

But based upon the signature and the traits and characteristics of the handwriting placed on the bat, it is clear that Babe Ruth never held this bat in his hands to sign it.  All of the experts we consulted with opined that the Ruth signature found on the barrel of this bat is a forgery and it is strikingly similar to the handwriting on the inscribed photo to Gary Cooper.

Jimmy Spence, Steve Grad and PSA/DNA have also authenticated Ruth forgeries added to well known books like the "Babe Ruth Story" Left) and "Idol of The American Boy" by Dan Daniel (right). One forgery appeared on the same 1999 Mastro catalog page as the infamous Ruth-Gary Cooper photo.

9. The Forged “Babe Ruth Story” and “Idol of The American Boy” Books-

When the forged Ruth-inscribed photo to Gary Cooper was sold at Mastro as lot 833 in 1999, another forged item appeared as lot 836 on the same auction catalog page.  That lot was an alleged signed copy of the 1948 book The Babe Ruth Story but it included a forgery that matched the work added to the Cooper photograph. The autograph was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and another forgery that was sold by Mastro in the winter of 2004 was authenticated by both Spence and Steve Grad for PSA/DNA.  The forger also executed a Ruth signature on another Ruth book (sold privately) called, Babe Ruth: Idol of The American Boy. The signatures that appear in these three books are almost identical to the other forgeries attributed to the creator of the Gary Cooper photo.

John Rogers (bottom left) placed this ad in a 2001 edition of SCD to warn collectors of laser-printed Babe Ruth forgeries. Experts say the inscriptions copied were also forgeries including the "To John" Ruth photo used in PSA/DNA's 2010 Most Dangerous Autographs list.

10.  The “To John” Babe Ruth Forgery Identified By John Rogers In 2001 & Later Included In PSA/DNA’s-2010 Most Dangerous Autographs” List-

In 2001, collector John Rogers took out a full page ad in SCD to warn collectors about laser-printed Ruth forgeries, but the examples that were laser copied were also forgeries believed to have been executed by the same forger who created the phony inscription on the Ruth photo to Gary Cooper.  Rogers’ dilemma began when PSA/DNA authenticated an initial group of the laser-printed forgeries which prompted him to purchase an additional group of forgeries.

Sources indicate that PSA/DNA only identified the “To John” photo as a forgery because it was laser-copied and that the company believed the original inscription was authentic.  Experts like Ron Keurajian, however, have identified the same inscription as a forgery penned in the same hand as the forger who created the Gary Cooper fake.

PSA/DNA published the bogus Babe Ruth "Sincerely" photo in a MastroNet catalog. The ad evidences the close relation between the auction house and the TPA's who MastroNet said offered the "best service in the autograph industry."

With all of the expensive, high-profile blunders that the TPA’s have made in the past fifteen years collectors should not be surprised that alleged gurus Spence and Grad have been fundamentally wrong on their authentications of the player who represents the backbone of the billion-dollar memorabilia industry.  As this report has illustrated, both PSA/DNA and JSA have cost collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars as they have recklessly and carelessly (and some allege intentionally) authenticated Ruth forgeries that should have been easily detected by experts collecting fees from the general public for their opinions.  The TPA malpractice dates back fifteen years but as illustrated by JSA and PSA/DNA’s recent authentication of a Ruth forgery on a modern replica ball, the TPA’s problems are worse than ever.  If the two leading authentication companies can’t tell what a real Babe Ruth signature is how could they ever be trusted to examine other signatures that are even more difficult to decipher?

The fact that our investigation was actually bolstered by ex-PSA employee Jimmy Spence’s admission that his “Sincerely Babe Ruth” cut was non-genuine is also strong evidence suggesting that both Spence and PSA/DNA had been covering up this information for years. The reversal of Spence’s opinion on the item he authenticated and sold is further proof that JSA and PSA/DNA may have covered up the Ruth forgery scandal to protect their auction house clients who had sold the forgeries for well over a decade.

Experts say other forgers are creating Ruth fakes like the bat and index card sold by Bill Mastro in 2010 (outlined in red) and the signed photo currently being offered by Goldin Auctions (highlighted in red oval) The Goldin photo (left) contrasts a genuine example sold by Heritage (center). Mastro (inset) also owned a $222,000 authentic autographed palm-print of the Babe that is also being sold by Goldin.

The signatures illustrated in this report are only a small sample of the forgeries that have entered the marketplace as there are multiple forgers who have mastered signing Ruth’s signature.  The different styles of Ruth forgeries show up in virtually every major auction and sale accompanied by LOA’s from both PSA/DNA and JSA.  As noted, several alleged Ruth fakes appeared in the current Grey Flannel sale and Ken Goldin’s current “Babe Ruth Centennial Auction” includes others.  One Ruth item Goldin is selling that is unquestionably authentic is the Bambino’s autographed palm-print that was created for a Baseball Magazine article in the 1920s.  The relic was part of Bill Mastro’s personal collection and was featured in the book Smithsonian Baseball where he described how he displayed the print under glass in his hobby room and said, “Not a single person, including the handyman and the exterminator has ever entered that room without placing a palm atop the Bambino’s paw print.”  The print, which was purchased by Mastro at the Sotheby’s Halper sale for $42,500, sold for $222,000 in Legendary’s sale of his own holdings in 2010 which also included the infamous Gary Cooper photo featuring the forged Ruth inscription.  Experts say Mastro’s private stash also included other Ruth forgeries including a PSA/DNA “Gem Mint 10″- “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” index card, which sold for $4,200,and a signed Ruth store- model bat which sold for $36,000.

One of the experts we consulted with summed up this “Operation Bambino” report stating, “If the FBI digs deeper and exposes the sellers and consignors in the Mastro sales they very well could start to blow the lid off of this Ruth problem.”

If you purchased any of the items featured in this report, or if you feel you have been victimized by Mastro Auctions, PSA/DNA or JSA we suggest you contact either: the FBI offices in New York (212-384-1000/NY1@ic.fbi.gov) or Chicago (312-421-6700/Chicago@ic.fbi.gov); the office of the US Attorney handling the Mastro investigation (312-353-5300); or the chambers (312-435-5363) of Judge Ronald Guzman who is presiding over the Mastro case and the sentencing of Bill Mastro.

(All of the prior “Operation Bambino” reports can be accessed by clicking on each installment: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5)

UPDATE (July 1, 2014):  Ruth Forgery Identified In Operation Bambino Surfaces In eBay Auction Of Ex-PSA Grader; FBI Aware Of Listing Ended Early By Seller Andy Madec

The Pride of the Yankees photograph featuring a Babe Ruth forgery that originally sold at Mastro Auctions in 2004 for over $8,000 appeared last week in the eBay store of ex-PSA grader Andy Madec with a price tag of $17,500.  The same photo was highlighted in this report as the #6 Ruth forgery executed in the same handwriting style as the infamous Ruth fake inscribed to actor Gary Cooper that was sold twice at Mastro Auctions in 1999 and 2010 and at REA in 2013.

The bogus Babe Ruth autograph certified as genuine by PSA/DNA appeared on eBay last week but the sale was ended early yesterday by seller and former PSA grader Andy Madec.

The eBay listing illustrated the PSA/DNA letter of authenticity dated on August 3, 2005, which features an unidentified live signature and the facsimile signatures of Steve Grad, Zach Rullo, John Reznikoff, Bob Eaton and Roger Epperson.  Hauls of Shame sent an inquiry to dealer Andy Madec asking when and how he acquired the photograph and whether he knew that the same photo was identified as a forgery in our current “Operation Bambino” report.  Madec was hired by PSA as a grader back in 1995 shortly after he was released from a California prison after serving a sentence stemming from a statutory rape of a 14-yr old girl in 1992.  Madec did not respond to our inquiry and subsequently ended the eBay listing for the bogus photograph.  Sources indicate that the FBI was aware of the offering, but Madec also failed to respond to our inquiry asking whether he had been contacted by the FBI.

PSA/DNA issued this LOA certifying that the forged Babe Ruth signature on the "Pride of the Yankees" photo offered on eBay was genuine.

The bogus Ruth offering is just further proof of the blatant disregard authenticators like Steve Grad of PSA/DNA have for the general public as forgeries he and his company have authenticated continue to be distributed in the marketplace, despite the fact that he and PSA/DNA have full knowledge that the items they certified as genuine are counterfeits.


By Peter J. Nash

June 12, 2014

Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad authenticated a modern replica ball as a Ruth-Gehrig original in Richard Russek's current Grey Flannel sale.

(For UPDATES scroll to bottom)

If Grey Flannel and Rich Russek needed some additional information to pull the bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig ball appearing as a premier lot in its current “Summer Games” auction, here it is….

A Hauls of Shame reader emailed us an image of a modern replica Babe Ruth autographed baseball that was manufactured and sold by a company in Florida in the past five years and it matches exactly the Ruth signature found on the sweet spot of the Grey Flannel auction lot.  It is not the exact same replica ball pictured but the quotations around “Babe” are in the exact same position as the replica as well as every single other characteristic of the alleged Ruth signatures printed on both of the replica baseballs.  Of course, we already pointed out in our last report that the ball, itself, was a counterfeit, but that wasn’t enough for Russek and GF to withdraw the lot the same way they pulled a JSA authenticated program allegedly signed in 1948 by HOFer Wilbert Robinson–when he died in 1934.

The news represents a new low in third-party authentication as both PSA/DNA and JSA have been exposed again as incompetent and perhaps involved in intentionally certifying the forgery to cover-up PSA’s original error in authenticating the ball previously with a certification number of “V11120″ in the PSA/DNA database.

As reported by Hauls of Shame in our last report, the signatures replicated on the bogus baseball are forgeries created in the early 1990’s by an infamous New York forger called “Johnny Fang.”  The forgeries were well known among hobbyists and dealers operating in the 1990s but despite that fact PSA/DNA and JSA still were duped and authenticated modern ball featuring facsimiles of the original Fang forgeries.

Grey Flannel's premier lot certed authentic by JSA & PSA/DNA (left) is the same as modern replica balls made featuring facsimile signatures of known forgeries (right). The Ruth signatures above are identical down to the quotes around "Babe" on each ball.

When the replica ball is illustrated next to Grey Flannel’s premier auction lot, it is abundantly clear that Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad have once again committed authentication malpractice by turning a worthless modern ball into a vintage artifact they say was signed by Yankee greats Ruth and Gehrig.  Grey Flannel was looking for an opening bid of $7,500, but since Hauls of Shame published a report identifying the ball as a forgery, not one bid has been placed on the fraudulent lot.

The bogus Grey Flannel lot was certified authentic by PSA/DNA and registered in the PSA system.

The bogus baseball has been registered in the PSA/DNA system, but it’s unclear exactly when Steve Grad & Co. first authenticated the facsimile signatures of Ruth and Gehrig.  Aside from the authentication of the facsimile signatures it is unclear how such a large company with access to advanced technology could not recognize that the baseball itself was counterfeit with the lacing, stamping and consistency of the surface contrasting thousands of genuine examples already authenticated by the alleged PSA/DNA experts.

Grey Flannel's premier lot failed to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $7,500.

Grey Flannel chose to keep the fraudulent lot in its “Summer Games” auction even after our report illustrated the problems with the ball’s authenticity.  The fact that the ball hasn’t received an opening bid apparently hasn’t been enough for the auction company to withdraw the ball that several experts had already identified as a forgery.  Now that it has been revealed that the ball is not only a forgery but a manufactured modern facsimile, its up to Grey Flannel to save face and withdraw the fraudulent lot.  Collectors and Grey Flannel customers will have to ascertain whether the company’s inaction regarding the bogus Ruth-Gehrig ball is representative of bigger problems at the auction house that is reportedly under investigation for the sale and authentication of fake and misrepresented game-used memorabilia.  Grey Flannel has a long history of authenticating fake game-used memorabilia dating back to their work with the Barry Halper Collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.  In that sale, hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus garments were sold with Grey Flannel’s approval.

Experts have also identified Grey Flannel’s 1927 New York Yankees team-signed photo as a forgery but that lot has received sixteen bids and currently stands at $30,597.  That photo was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA.  Considering that Spence was just exposed authenticating a replica ball made in the past ten years as a vintage 1928 AL ball autographed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the bidders on that lot might be better off listening to the experts who have identified the photo as a “poorly executed forgery.”  For more examples of JSA & PSA/DNA’s past authentication blunders you can check our “Worst 100 Authentications” report that was published last year.

We contacted the Grey Flannel offices earlier today and notified an auction representative that the 1928 Ruth Gehrig ball was bogus and manufactured in the past decade.  The representative told us, “I have no idea what you are talking about, let me get someone you can talk to.”  We were placed on hold and then hung up on shortly thereafter.

If readers are concerned with Grey Flannel’s offerings of fakes and frauds you can contact the Southhampton Police Department at 631-728-5000 or the New York City office of the FBI at: NY1@ic.fbi.gov

UPDATE (June 14, 2014):  Grey Flannel Withdraws Phony Ruth-Gehrig Ball From Auction; Suspect 1927 Yankee Photo Identified As A Forgery By Experts Tops $30,000

Eleven days after we published our first report identifying one of Grey Flannel’s “Premier Lots” as a forgery, Richard Russek and the Westhampton, New York, auction house have removed a bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig signed baseball from its current sale.  The forgery was created by using a recently manufactured replica ball which featured a facsimile of a 1990s forgery of Babe Ruth’s signature.  Besides being a modern replica, the stamping, lacing and construction of the ball were dead giveaways that the sphere was a counterfeit.  Since we published our first report, the ball failed to receive any bids at the reserve price of $7,500.  The ball was authenticated by PSA/DNA and JSA.

JSA's Jimmy Spence authenticated this forgery of the 1928 Yankees for Mastro Auctions. Why would collectors think he's right on the current 1927 photo being offered by Grey Flannel?

While Grey Flannel pulled the bogus baseball from its sale,  the auction house has still not withdrawn an alleged signed photo of the 1927 Yankees which has also been identified as a forgery by experts.  That photograph has been authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA, but Spence has a well-documented history of certifying bogus Yankee team-signed items as genuine.   Among others, Spence authenticated a forged photograph of the 1928 Yankees for Mastro Auctions in 1999 (see photo above).  The current bid on the alleged 1927 photo is $30,597 and the auction ends on June 18th..


By Peter J. Nash

June 2, 2014

UPDATE (June 11th): Grey Flannel has not removed the bogus c.1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball from its current “Summer Games” auction.  The ball has failed to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $7,500.  The alleged 1927 New York Yankees signed photo, which has been identified by several experts as a forgery, is also still for sale and has a current bid of $25,286.

When contacted earlier today, the Westhampton Beach Police Department said it could not deny or confirm whether complaints had been made in regard to Grey Flannel’s offering of the bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig ball.  A Police representative suggested that we make a Freedom of Information request to see if any complaints had been filed against Richard Russek and the auction house for offering the counterfeit ball.

While collectors appear to agree that the Ruth-Gehrig ball is a forgery, it is no surprise that others are still bidding on the alleged 1927 photo that experts believe is a fake.  Third-party authenticators have been certifying bogus 1927 items for decades as evidenced by this 1927 forgery certified genuine by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007 when it sold for $22,318 in a Mastro auction.  Like the Ruth-Gehrig ball in the current sale, this 1927 ball includes forged signatures executed on another counterfeit baseball that appears to be a cowhide baseball manufactured in the past few decades.

This 1927 Yankee fake was authenticated by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007.

(End of Update)

According to recently published news reports, Grey Flannel Auctions is the target of a grand jury and FBI probe for allegedly selling bogus and misrepresented game-used memorabilia. The auction house’s current sale suggests that the government can also add the sale of forged autographs to Grey Flannel’s list of alleged transgressions. The premier lot in its current sale is a JSA-authenticated signed photo of Babe Ruth and the 1927 Yankees, but Hauls of Shame and several noted experts in the field have identified the photograph as a poorly executed forgery that once again exposes so-called expert Jimmy Spence of JSA as either totally incompetent or complicit in the distribution of fakes into the marketplace.  Another premier lot in the same auction has also been identified as a forgery by author Ron Keurajian who told us, “The Ruth/Gehrig signed baseball in the Gray Flannel Auction is, in my opinion, a forgery.  The authenticity of the baseball itself is questionable and looks like a counterfeit. This item should be reported to the Westhampton Police Department for investigation.”

That being said, the Grey Flannel catalog featured yet another bogus lot with a JSA certificate of authenticity, a 1948 dinner program that Spence said was signed by HOFer Wilbert Robinson.  Robinson, however, died in 1934.  Grey Flannel has already removed that JSA embarrassment from the current online auction.

JSA authenticated a Wilbert Robinson signature (top right) on a 1948 dinner program (left). Robinson, however, died in 1934 and he real signature (bottom, right) would never be mistaken with the JSA-certed example.

With the heat apparently turned up on Grey Flannel’s Richard Russek, you’d think the Westhampton, New York, auction house would have also pulled the other dubious 1927 Yankee autographs from its auction after being notified by Hauls of Shame last Friday, but they didn’t.  The auction house has a long-standing relationship with JSA and Jimmy Spence who has also appeared on Grey Flannel’s short-lived Discovery Channel show called All-Star Dealers.  Spence’s history of authenticating fake 1927 Yankee material is well known, including his certification of a 1927 Yankee signed ball that is now widely regarded in the hobby as a forgery, but Grey Flannel still considers him an expert and includes his LOA with the premier lots in the current auction.  The owner of the bogus 1927 baseball that Spence certified genuine, however, has a contrary opinion of Spence’s authentication skills. David Atkatz, of Saratoga Springs, New York, lost over $14,000 over a decade ago when he purchased his Murderers Row-signed baseball because it was accompanied by one of Spence’s letters of authenticity.  Atkatz learned years later the ball was a fake.

Based on the inclusion of Grey Flannel’s premier auction lot it appears that Spence has not learned from his mistakes and is still certifying forgeries of the famous New York Yankees of 1927.  In addition, both Spence and PSA/DNA have also authenticated a 1928 baseball with forged signatures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (lot #10) which appears to have been executed by the same forger who created the 1927 ball that victimized Atkatz back in 2000.  When Hauls of Shame informed Atkatz of Spence’s continued certification of fakes he responded, “That Ruth/Gehrig ball was, without a doubt, done by the same guy.  It’s nice to see that both PSA and JSA are authenticating his stuff—I took a $14,000 hit on that ball—maybe I’ll consign it to Grey Flannel.”

Jimmy Spence knew of the Fang forgeries but still wrote this LOA for the forged 1927 Yankee ball at Bill Mastro's offices. Spence said it was his "unwavering opinion" that the signatures were genuine..

Spence was aware of the work that this writer and renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton had done as early as 1993 to expose what became known as the “Fang forgeries,” but he continued to certify the fakes as genuine when they began showing up in Bill Mastro’s auctions in the late 1990’s.  Mastro was also aware of the Fang fakes when he organized Sotheby’s sports auctions in the mid-90’s and proceeded to sell them in his own auctions as long as he could get Spence, Steve Grad or Mike Gutierrez to write LOA’s for them.  At the time, authenticators like Spence and Grad were beholden to Mastro who had helped establish their livelihoods and reputations at Mastro Auctions and at PSA.  While Mastro publicly lauded his experts he expressed a contrary opinion of them privately.  Mastro revealed how little he respected Spence, Grad and Gutierrez in a 1994 letter to this writer in which he said, “The so-called autograph experts we have in our business today don’t know shit.”

In public Bill Mastro spoke highly of Jimmy Spence and other authenticators but in private he revealed he had little regard for their skills calling them "so called experts" and saying, "They don't know shit."

Considering that Spence and others had known about the Fang forgeries as early as 1993, it is stunning that he could still write the letter of authenticity for the ball purchased by Atkatz from Greg Bussineau at Superior Sports Auctions in 2000.  Bussineau was an early PSA-dealer and the person who introduced Bill Mastro to west-coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland.  For making that introduction, Bussineau also made a commission on Mastro’s $110,000 sale of the fraudulent T206 Wagner to Copeland after Mastro had trimmed it.  In 1997, three years before the Superior sale of Atkatz’ fake 1927 ball, dealer and authenticator Richard Galasso identified a similar Fang- forged ‘27 Yankee ball in ads he placed in Sports Collectors Digest.  But in Spence’s LOA, written at the Mastro offices in September of 1999, he opined about the other forged Yankee ball stating, “It is my unwavering opinion that the signatures are genuine.”  Knowing that Spence had learned about the Fang forgeries years before he wrote the LOA for his bogus ball, Atkatz told us, “There is no excuse, then, for Spence to have authenticated Fang’s forged 1927 ball in 1999, and it is a joke that he—and PSA—are still being fooled in 2014.”

Grey Flannel's Rich Russek (left) uses Jimmy Spence (2nd from left) as an expert for his auction and defunct TV show. Spence has a long history authenticating bogus 1927 Yankee material including a forged baseball that surfaced in the 1990's (right).

But are they really being fooled?  The evidence suggests they are intentionally authenticating forgeries.  The alleged 1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball in the Grey Flannel sale features dark black signatures executed in what appears to be India-ink and the autographs are almost identical to the forgeries that surfaced in the early 1990’s with California Investments, Art Jaffe and Mike Gutierrez, among others.  The forger’s specialty was executing pristine Ruth and Gehrig signatures on snow white non-official baseballs and the current example appears to have been created to contrast those earlier examples with a dark shellacked appearance on an official AL ball.  The alleged forger, known as “Johnny Fang,” was so skilled at creating Ruth’s circa 1927 signature in quotes he may have eluded detection if it were not for mistakes he made in regard to the baseballs he used which were also counterfeits.

Lot 10 in Grey Flannel's current sale appears to be a forgery reminiscent of the Jimmy Spence and Mike Gutierrez authenticated forgeries on bats and balls that first appeared in the 1990's at California Investments (bottom) and still appear in auctions today with JSA LOAs.

Grey Flannel’s bogus Ruth and Gehrig signatures are also executed on a counterfeit baseball.  When compared to authentic examples of a scarce 1928 style AL Reach ball (with an E. S. Barnard stamp as AL President), the JSA and PSA- certed ball shows significant differences.  Other Ruth fakes that hit the market were signed on genuine non-official balls from the period and the most notable of those forgeries appeared in Heritage Auction Galleries’ October 2012 sale described as “the finest 1920’s single signed ball in existence.”  At the time, Hauls of Shame called the ball out as a forgery but Chris Ivy of Heritage continued the sale and later reported that the ball sold for $110,000.  The Heritage website, however, now shows that the ball went “unsold” suggesting that the $110,000 bid was not real as well.  Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez had previously sold that same bogus Ruth ball in his own MGA auction catalog in 2004.

The Ruth forgery found on Grey Flannel's Lot 10 matches the Ruth forgery on HA's Ruth single signed ball from 2012 that was reportedly sold for $110,000. Both balls were authenticated by Steve Grad of PSA/DNA (inset).

The current Grey Flannel ball features a Ruth forgery so similar to the Ruth forgery on the Heritage ball, it looks as if the Grey Flannel ball features a stamp of the other Ruth autograph (with the quotes around “Babe” added later with a pen).  Beyond those unusual similarities, the Grey Flannel baseball, itself, appears to be a phony official AL ball.  The differences between the Ruth-Gehrig ball and a genuine AL ball are illustrated in detail when posted next to the example illustrated in Brandon Grunbaum’s book, The Official American League Baseball Guide.  The authentic example shows key differences in the size of the characters and the placement of each line of information on the sweet spot of the ball.  In addition, the laces on the ball are inconsistent in size and color with genuine examples and the bogus ball appears to be a more modern cowhide baseball that was doctored-up to appear vintage. Like many of the other Fang forgeries executed on fake baseballs, this one exhibits all of the tell-tale signs that have been exposed in the past.  Further forensic testing would, no doubt, confirm that the materials used to create the forgery were not vintage from 1928.

The Grey Flannel Ruth-Gehrig signed ball appears to be a counterfeit AL Barnard ball (right). When compared with an authentic example in Brandon Grunbaum's ball guide (left) tell-tale differences in the size and placement of the Reach graphics are revealed.(Official American League Baseball Guide, Brandon Grunbaum)

Bogus baseballs and photographs featuring forgeries of the ‘27 Yanks have been surfacing with greater frequency and are all accompanied by letters of authenticity from JSA and also PSA/DNA.  The most notable forgeries of late have been two alleged 1927 team signed baseballs executed in bright green ink that sold for $149,375 at Heritage Auctions in 2013 and for $53,759 at SPC Auctions in 2014.  Neither of those questioned baseballs came with JSA certifications and were both authenticated by Spence’s former colleague Steve Grad, who currently appears as a so-called expert on the History Channel’s hit cable show Pawn Stars.

Two 1927 Yankee balls alleged to be forgeries were sold recently at Heritage Auction Galleries (left) and SCP Auctions (right).

Spence’s history of authenticating 1927 Yankee player autographs started when he was setting up at baseball card shows as a dealer and selling “cut-signature” forgeries from his own dealer tables.  By the mid to late 1990’s Spence was placing advertisements offering for sale large framed collections of cut signatures for well-known teams in baseball history including the 1927 Yankees who were priced at $12,000 per frame in ads Spence placed in VCBC and SCD.  Sources indicate that cut signatures and 3×5 cards of common players used by Spence were usually genuine, but the valuable and scarce examples of Ruth, Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Joe Giard were often non-genuine.

Jimmy Spence created and sold framed team displays with cut signatures at card shows in the 1990's and those items have re-appeared at major auctions now authenticated by JSA. In 2008, REA posted an addendum (bottom) stating that JSA claimed that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig signatures in Spence's framed creation for the 1927 Yankees were "secretarial" (top).

In fact, when some of Spence’s framed team creations appeared in an REA sale in 2008, auctioneer Rob Lifson failed to inform bidders that the items which were created and originally sold by Spence were also being authenticated by him. REA advertised the Spence creation as genuine in its catalog but later posted an “extremely important addendum” to its lot description claiming that Spence had identified the Ruth and Gehrig signatures as being “secretarial.”

Oddly enough, when Hauls of Shame and other experts recently examined the alleged Ruth secretarial signature we noticed it was a dead ringer for the forged Ruth signature appearing on a now infamous bogus photograph inscribed to Gary Cooper and another forged single-signed Ruth ball which was sold by Bill Mastro (see illustration below).  In other words, REA and JSA’s determination that the signature was “secretarial” was an attempt to deceive bidders when they knew the signature was an outright forgery.

When it appeared in REA in 2008, Jimmy Spence deemed one of the Ruth signatures he included in his 1927 Yankee cut signature display as "secretarial." That signature, however, matches a Ruth forgery Spence certed for Bill Mastro (top) and another from a bogus signed photo inscribed to actor Gary Cooper (center).

All three of these Ruth forgeries have one thing in common—they were all authenticated early on in the marketplace by Jimmy Spence.  Spence authenticated the forged Cooper photo for a Mastro auction in April of 1999 (lot 833) and 2010 (lot 459); the single-signed Ruth forgery for a Mastro sale in November 1998 (lot 1313) and the forgery REA identified as a “secretarial” was sold as genuine by Spence when he first created the framed piece.  But how could Spence and REA justify designating the cut signature in Spence’s 1927 display a “secreterial” and later ignore evidence and opinions stated by Hauls of Shame and author Ron Keurajian calling the Ruth signature and inscription to Gary Cooper an outright forgery?  If Rob Lifson and Spence knew the Ruth cut was bogus, how could they allow the forged Ruth-Cooper photo to be sold in REA’s Spring 2013 sale with a JSA LOA?  Some REA bidders apparently took Keurajian’s opinion to heart and refrained from bidding as the photo only sold for $11,850 as opposed to the $15,600 it fetched in the sale of Bill Mastro’s collection at Legendary Auctions in December of 2010.

Not only was the Ruth-Cooper photo an item that federally indicted auctioneer Bill Mastro had already sold twice, it was also an item called out as a forgery at the time of the REA sale and the high bidder had to argue with REA’s Rob Lifson to retract his high bid.  Not only did author Ron Keurajian go into great detail about the same photograph being a forgery in his book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs:  A Reference Guide, in addition to his opinion, Gary Cooper’s own daughter, Maria Cooper-Janis told Hauls of Shame that she had no recollection of such a photo ever being part of her family’s collection of Cooper memorabilia.  Despite all of that evidence, Jimmy Spence stuck with his fraudulent opinion and along with REA kept a forgery alive in the marketplace.  Like other disreputable auctioneers, Lifson hid behind Spence’s worthless LOA and collected $3,700 in commissions for selling the forgery.

Ex-hobby kingpin Bill Mastro (inset) sold the forged Babe Ruth-Gary Cooper photo twice with LOA's from Jimmy Spence. Author Ron Keurajian (inset center) identified the same photo as a forgery in his 2012 book (center). REA's Rob Lifson (right) sold the forgery in 2013 despite Keurajian's published opinion.

Jimmy Spence started his hobby career selling questionable Ruth, Gehrig and 1927 Yankee player autographs at card shows and now he’s the alleged authority who passes judgment on the same items and most every other signature that makes its way into auction sales.  When he was selling his framed team autograph displays as “A Year To Remember” he claimed “all autographs are guaranteed authentic for life” but as David Atkatz experienced with his fake ‘27 Yankee ball, that’s one promise Spence has failed to deliver on.   When Spence was wheeling and dealing autographs he claimed that he was carrying on a family tradition that started in 1938 when his grandfather “ushered fans at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.”  In print ads Spence added, “Grandpa Spence’s massive collection laid the groundwork for one of baseball’s most impressive autograph collections” and according to Spence, he and his father “hawked autographs outside (Yankee) Stadium” and followed in Grandpa Spence’s footsteps.  If that’s true, Grandpa Spence would likely be rolling over in his grave if he saw the Yankee forgeries that his grandson, James Spence Jr. (previously known as James Spence III) is now certifying as genuine.

Spence published ads to sell his made to order team autograph displays noting his grandfather's "massive collection" and a lifetime guarantee on the autographs he sold. In 1998 he was selling 1927 Yankee signed displays for $9,000 and today he's authenticating '27 Yankee forgeries like the current premier lot in Grey Flannel auctions (inset).

The premier lot in Grey Flannel’s current auction is one of those items.  Its one of several alleged signed photographs of the 1927 Yankees that Spence has certified as genuine despite the fact that several experts have opined that the signatures appearing on the image are “poorly executed forgeries.”  Grey Flannel doesn’t say too much about the photo other than stating it comes with an LOA issued by JSA and adds, “Each of these players signed on the photo where they’re standing in black fountain ink and in our opinion, rates an 8 overall with the Ruth signature being the boldest of the group.”  But the evidence suggests that none of the Yankee players ever signed the photo depicting the famous Murderers Row crew.

Grey Flannel's alleged 1927 Yankees signed photo features signatures that several experts have deemed non-genuine and executed in a slow and laborious hand which is evidenced by uneven ink flow and hesitation.

When each alleged signature on the photograph is compared with authentic exemplars of each player found on genuine New York Yankee payroll checks dating from 1924 to 1930, it is clear to see that the Grey Flannel lot has major problems.  In fact, upon close examination it appears that some of the existing Yankee payroll checks offered previously at auction may have been copied by the forger to create Grey Flannel’s “Premier Lot.”  The handwriting exhibited on the photograph was executed in a slow and laborious hand which resulted in uneven ink flow with evidence of abrupt stops and hesitation.  Grey Flannel also misidentifies the ink used on the photo as being black when it appears to be a common blue Parker ink or “Quink” ink from the 1950’s that is easily accessible and popular among forgers.   In comparison, the forged signatures found on the auction photo also appear inferior to the forged examples featured on the ‘27 Yankee ball that Spence authenticated in the 1990’s.

The alleged forged signatures of the 1927 Yankees appear on the left and authentic signatures of the same players taken from NY Yankee payroll checks issued between 1924 and 1930 appear to the right. The genuine signature of Waite Hoyt is from a 1928 letter (bottom right). Experts can tell that the Grey Flannel signatures were not written in the same hand as the genuine signatures and it appears that a forger used some of the Yankee payroll checks as his guide.

Considering Spence’s history of authenticating ‘27 Yankee forgeries dating back to the 1990’s, his current authentications of both the Ruth and Gehrig signatures on a counterfeit AL ball and the forged 1927 Yankee photo illustrate the house of cards that third-party authentication has become.

The bogus Ruth Gehrig ball in the current Grey Flannel auction (top left) was created by the same forger this 1927 Yankee team ball forgery in the early 1990's (bottom). In the 1990's Jimmy Spence was a dealer and hand-wrote "Guaranteed Authentic For Life" on invoices (top right). Spence has not lived up to that motto with forged items he's certified authentic like David Atkatz' 1927 forgery (bottom).

Jimmy Spence’s well-documented incompetence and the allegations and evidence coming to light that suggest he is committing criminal acts by authenticating items he knows are bogus should bolster what sources say are on-going FBI investigations focusing on JSA business practices.  Does anyone believe that Spence examined Grey Flannel’s Ruth-Gehrig ball unaware that it matched exactly the well publicized forgeries that had fooled him in the 1990’s?  Did Spence not realize that the Babe Ruth “secretarial” in his 1927 team display was a dead ringer for the Gary Cooper inscribed Ruth photo he authenticated for Lifson and REA?  And now that these examples have been illuminated in our column, what will Spence and the auction houses do to rectify the authentication fiasco?  Last but not least, when will law enforcement sweep down on the JSA authentication juggernaut and topple Spence’s house of cards?

In addition to JSA’s authentication problems, sources indicate that the relationship between Spence and his business partner, Roy I. Weitzer, of Mendham, NJ,  has deteriorated recently over a controversy arising over submitted items disappearing from the JSA main office in Parsippany, New Jersey.  Sources also indicate that JSA may face further scrutiny from the authorities since both LA Weekly and the Miami Times reported last spring how the company collects cash when on the road.  Reporter Jake Rossen stated in his reports, “Business is so good that they (JSA) use garbage cans to hold the cash they collect from reviews at hobby conventions.”  An ex-JSA employee has also alleged that JSA has not properly reported considerable cash income collected at card shows and signing events.  In a recent report Spence has claimed that JSA examines “300,000 to 350,000″ items per year.

Rich Russek (shown with ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern) is the official authenticator and appraiser for the Basketball Hall of Fame despite certifying scores of Barry Halper's fake jersey's as genuine including a 1905 John McGraw jersey worn by Yogi Berra on the cover of TSN (center).

Richard Russek and Grey Flannel did not respond to our request to explain why they are offering counterfeit memorabilia for sale and as of this morning the 1927 Yankee photo and the 1928 Ruth Gehrig ball are still part of the auction which ends on June 18th.  The 1927 Yankee photo currently has a bid of $17,270 while the phony Ruth-Gehrig ball has failed to receive an opening bid at $7,500.  Russek is no stranger to the sale and authentication of fake memorabilia.  On his company website he states that he was chosen by Sotheby’s to authenticate the uniforms and jerseys that were included in the Barry Halper Collection auction in 1999.  Russek doesn’t mention, however, that he and partner Andy Imperato authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus uniforms that were sold by Sotheby’s.

On his company website, Russek calls Barry Halper a “baseball collector extraordinaire” and includes a testimonial from Halper stating, “Nobody has studied their craft any harder than GF. They are the finest authenticator of uniforms in the hobby today. Their knowledge and integrity are indisputable.”  Russek still includes the Halper quote on his website but when collector Chris Sullivan of Boston recently tried to consign a bogus $30,000 Jimmy Collins jersey that Grey Flannel authenticated, Russek responded, “We are returning to you the Collins jersey that came from the Halper auction because, as you are well aware, those 19th century jerseys are full of controversy and we would be very uncomfortable running it.”

It appears that Russek and Grey Flannel are very comfortable selling fake ‘27 Yankee photos and phony Ruth and Gehrig balls. This time it’s Grey Flannel and JSA who are full of controversy.