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By Peter J. Nash

July 24, 2014

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When the authenticity of Babe Ruth’s alleged 1923 World Series pocket watch and a bogus letter attributed to 19th century HOFer John M. Ward were questioned earlier this year, Heritage Auctions sports director, Chris Ivy, told Hauls of Shame, “Heritage would never sell an item which we do not believe to be genuine.”

But despite Ivy’s emphatic claim, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, is offering more fakes and frauds in its Platinum Night Auction scheduled for July 31st at The House of Blues in Cleveland in conjunction with the National Sports Collectors Convention.  Ivy recently raised some eyebrows when a Heritage press release was picked up by the Associated Press and ESPN advertising the upcoming sale of an alleged Lou Gehrig signed ticket from “Gehrig Day” in 1939 that he calls “the most significant baseball ticket in the world.”  The AP reports that the ticket is “estimated to bring over $100,000″ at the live event in Cleveland.  Several experts and hobby observers, however, think that the Gehrig signature on the ticket is not genuine, but even more disturbing is another Heritage lot in the glitzy auction catalog that has been identified as a counterfeit 1882 Cincinnati Reds presentational pocket watch attributed to 19th-century star Charlie Gould.  The auction house estimates the timepiece could sell for over $60,000 but the alleged 1882 Reds championship watch is actually a well-documented fake created by early 1990’s forger Randy Lee Marshall.

Marshall, a former batboy for the Reds, was convicted in 1993 for mail and wire fraud and was sentenced to twenty one months in prison as a result of an FBI investigation.  Marshall identified the watch currently being offered by Heritage on his own personal “Top 10 Forgeries” list which was published in Cincinnati Magazine in 1995 (the article incorrectly identified the watch as being dated 1888).  In addition to peddling that historic fake, Heritage is also continuing its unfettered sales of stolen documents from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with the offering of a 1923 letter written by Christy Mathewson protesting a game between the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers in 1923.  The National Baseball Library’s files house the August Herrmann Papers collection which includes letters and affidavits for protested games in the National League spanning from 1902 to 1926.

Chris Ivy’s inclusion of the counterfeit Charlie Gould watch in the current Heritage sale is stunning considering the pocket watch had been identified in public records as a forgery several years after it was sold in 1991 at Richard Wolfers Auctions.  The watch appeared in a sale conducted by Democratic Party fundraiser Duane Garrett who had also sold other fakes created by Randy Marshall including Harry Wright’s boots, Babe Ruth’s St. Mary’s Industrial School uniform and a pocket watch allegedly presented to President William Howard Taft.  All of the items came with forged documents alleging provenance from government officials and Major League owners.  Like Heritage’s Gould watch, the Wolfers lot description said the phony Harry Wright boots were:

“Accompanied by extensive documentation including a copy of a 1952 letter from U. S. Senator Robert A. Taft to Clark Griffith loaning these boots (which were the treasured property of the Fleischman family of Cincinnati) to an exhibition and a letter from the Hall of Fame that states in part “As you know these fabulous artifacts are some of the earliest known examples of the Red Stockings and the birth of baseball”. Of the highest order of importance and rarity.”

Wolfers estimated the value at $15,000-17,500 and the boots ended up selling for $3,300.  The Wright boots were again recently identified as fakes in a post published by researcher Jimmy Leiderman at The New York Clipper in 2012.  The Taft watch, said to be presented to the President at the dedication of Redland Field in 1912, includes similar forged documents including a 1952 letter from Senator Taft to Clark Griffith.

Duane Garrett (center) offered the bogus 1882 Reds watch for sale in his 1991 "Treasures of The Game" auction at Richard Wolfers in San Francisco. The watch had the same alleged provenance as another counterfeit watch attributed to President William Howard Taft. Both watches were created by convicted forger Randall Lee Marshall (inset top right).

Ivy and Heritage estimate the value of the bogus watch at “$60,000 and up” and state in the current lot description:

“The watch first entered the collecting hobby in a 1991 auction, when it was accompanied by an impressive folder of letters detailing its provenance. While the originals have since been lost, photocopies remain, including:  1) 1952 letter from US Senator Robert Taft to Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith lending the watch for display.  2) 1981 letter from Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt to an unknown recipient (presumably Taft or his family) thanking him for allowing the watch to be displayed at a restaurant.  3) 1986 letter from Baseball Hall of Fame President Edward Stack to the same unknown recipient requesting donation of the watch for the museum’s permanent display.”

The Heritage lot description describes the Gould watch as a “special award” presented to Gould after the Reds won the American Association championship in 1882.  Although Gould had no apparent affiliation with the Reds in 1882, Heritage states without any supporting evidence, “Some form of coaching role is the most likely association.”  When Wolfers sold the watch they described it as “one of the most important pieces of baseball jewelry ever to come onto the market.”

Similar to other questionable lots sold by Ivy and Heritage in the past, the auction house does not post any of the alleged letters of provenance with the Gould watch.  After his conviction, Marshall admitted he had forged all of the additional documentation that supported the authenticity of his creations.  In a 1995 article published in The Boston Globe Marshall was quoted as saying, “Some of my items are in the Smithsonian, some are in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame….Even now, I look at catalogs from Christie’s and Sotheby’s and I still see my pieces.”  In the 1995 Cincinnati Magazine feature article called “The Forger” Marshall identified his own work in a Wolfers catalog and said, “That’s mine,”  when he spotted a c.1900 Honus Wagner jersey he had created by adding the chain-stitched “Wagner” name to a period Spalding flannel.  Wolfers valued the fake at “$175,000-$200,000.”

Randy Marshall's forgeries ended up in major auctions including: Babe Ruth's St. Mary's jersey (left) which appeared on the cover of both Superior and Wolfers catalogs in 1991; Harry Wright's boots (inset) in Wolfers; and Honus Wagner's c.1900 jersey at Wolfers in 1995 (right).

At the time Marshall’s forgeries were circulating in the hobby, current Heritage consignment directors Mark Jordan and Mike Gutierrez were working for Wolfers and Duane Garrett as consignment agents and authenticators.  After the bogus Babe Ruth St. Mary’s uniform failed to sell at Wolfers in 1991 it resurfaced in two later sales held by Superior Auctions in Beverly Hills in 1992 and 1993 when Gutierrez was working exclusively for LA Kings owner Bruce McNall as Superior’s baseball consultant.  By the time Randy Marshall was convicted and his creations were identified in the press, Mark Jordan had already authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of other forged items that had appeared in Wolfers sales.  After this writer and several other experts and hobbyists illustrated how many forgeries were appearing in the Wolfers auction catalogs the once prominent auction house lost credibility and faced further scrutiny which led to auction founder Duane Garrett’s alleged suicide jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ex-Cincinnati Reds batboy Randy Lee Marshall was convicted after an FBI investigation that included his admission that he created an engraved pocket watch presented to Charlie Gould. The watch appears on a "Top 10" list of Marshall's forgeries published in Cincinnati Magazine in 1995 (right).

According to Cincinnati Magazine, Marshall also used the alias, Geoff Wayne, and created scores of forgeries that made their way into other major auctions as well as exhibits at the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.  There were also talks of one of Marshall’s Ruth fakes even landing in a display case at the FBI office in Minneapolis.  Marshall created other relics ranging from Yankee pitcher Waite Hoyt’s 1927 World Series ring to a silver bat he crafted as Lou Gehrig’s 1936 MVP award which he called his “finest” work.  Heritage is currently offering another 1927 Yankee World Series ring attributed to Earle Combs, but that ring appears to be authentic and originates from Combs’ grandson.  Marshall also ventured into football items and created a 1972 Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl trophy.  The current Heritage sale includes two misrepresented Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl rings that have been doctored with unofficial engraving and appear to be salesman’s samples.

The Reds erected a monument above Charlie Gould's grave in 1951 and forger Randy Marshall created a fake watch allegedly honoring him in 1882. Marshall also created a bogus watch he said was presented to President Taft at the dedication of Redland Field in 1912.

The evidence that Heritage’s 1882 Reds watch is a fake is so overwhelming one has to question what type of due diligence Chris Ivy, Mike Gutierrez, Mark Jordan, Rob Rosen and Derek Grady conduct when it comes to vetting major items appearing in HA sales.  Hauls of Shame has identified other alleged fakes that Heritage has offered including the “last out ball” from the 1917 World Series.  The auction house removed that ball from a 2012 sale when our report illustrated that the ball wasn’t manufactured until 1926.  More recently, Heritage proceeded with the sale of a bogus document said to bear the rare autograph of HOFer John M. Ward, despite the fact that Hauls of Shame and other experts definitively identified the Ward autograph as an obvious secretarial signature.

Randy Marshall, who currently lives in Saint Augustine, Florida, and operates an online collectibles store called “Dead Peoples Things” did not respond to our request for comment.

The Lou Gehrig signed ticket in the current HA sale (right) has been identified as a forgery by experts and is similar in construction to two other single-signed Gehrig balls sold at HA and Mastro Auctions (left).

In 2012, Heritage offered a single-signed Lou Gehrig baseball that several experts, including author Ron Keurajian, opined was a forgery.  The ball was signed on an official American League ball believed to have been manufactured in 1940 when Gehrig could not have signed the ball due to his physical condition.  Heritage removed the ball from the sale as a result of our report but later returned the same ball to a 2013 auction after they uncovered evidence suggesting that it was possible for Gehrig to have signed that particular type of AL baseball in late 1939.  But even if Gehrig could have signed the ball sometime in 1939, that fact appears irrelevant based upon the opinions that the Gehrig signature on the ball is not genuine.  The signature on the Heritage ball and the signature on the ticket currently being offered for sale are both inconsistent with other verifiable authentic signatures executed by Gehrig during the same period during 1939.

Authentic Lou Gehrig signatures executed in the summer of 1939 contrast the alleged Gehrig signature on the ticket being offered by Heritage (bottom in red). The genuine Gehrig signatures appear clockwise from top left: 1. July 16, 1939 letter; 2. June 20, 1939 check to Mayo clinic; 3. Letter to Doctor from September, 1939; 4. Letter from July 7, 1939; 5. Letter from 1939 on PSA "Autograph Facts" page.

The “Gehrig-Day” ticket signature appears to have been executed with considerable hesitation and stoppages causing uneven ink flow and awkward letter construction, which are all tell-tale signs of forgery.  The ticket also features several sections of paper loss which have obscured parts of the signature and appear may have been done  intentionally to remove other mistakes made in the execution of the forgery.

One expert told us that the signature on the ticket looks as if someone used other Gehrig forgeries signed on baseballs as an exemplar.  While PSA/DNA and Steve Grad have authenticated the ticket and encapsulated it in a plastic holder, anyone with a background in handwriting analysis can identify the numerous differences between the Heritage signature and genuine Gehrig handwriting samples from the same time period.

While Heritage appears to be offering bogus Gehrig autographs on a regular basis, they are also pushing forward with their steady flow of documents believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown.  This time Ivy and Co. are offering a 1923 letter written by Boston executive Christy Mathewson to NL President John Heydler protesting a home run call in a game played against the Dodgers on July 4, 1923.

The 1923 Matty protest letter being offered by HA (left) is missing from the HOF's "Herrmann Papers" file "Folder 24" from "Box 44" which still retains an affidavit signed by Brave Fred Mitchell protesting the exact same game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Mathewson letter which has an estimated value of “$15,000 and up” appears as lot 80059 and is just one of several documents originally housed in the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers donated in 1961 by Reds owner Powell Crosley Jr. The same Hall of Fame files still retain the letter initially protesting the game penned by Boston Brave manager Fred Mitchell sent to Heydler on July 4, 1923, and describing the same disputed home run that Mathewson documents in the July 6th letter being offered by Heritage.

Mathewson’s missive references Mitchell’s letter stating, “I am in receipt from you (a) copy of Manager Mitchell’s protest in regard to the Boston-Brooklyn Game at Brooklyn, July 4th.”  How could the Matty letter addressed to the National League and referencing the same letter still found in the HOF files end up in private hands and a Heritage sale?  It’s the same question that’s been asked about Chris Ivy’s inclusion of other letters originating from the Herrmann files written by Honus Wagner and Barney Dreyfus that appeared in Heritage’s last sale.  Those letters join other alleged stolen documents offered by Heritage in the past including examples written by Babe Ruth and the 1915 Red Sox team, Charles Comiskey, Fred Clarke, Joe Tinker, AL President Ban Johnson, and Ed Barrow.  Two others originating from the Hall were written by Miller Huggins and Hank O’Day and were sold recently at Heritage by autograph dealer Jack Smalling who claims the two letters were given to him in the 1960’s as a gift from Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen.  Allen, however, had no authority to gift the documents to Smalling at the time since the documents had become the property of New York State after they were donated.

Another Mathewson protest letter believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame appeared as part of the Barry Halper Collection at Sotheby's in 1999. Halper and Jane Forbes Clark (inset) cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Hall's "Halper Gallery" in 1999. The gallery dedicated in Halper's honor no longer exists.

Another Mathewson letter from the same Herrmann Papers file and regarding the same protested game of July 4, 1923, appeared for sale as part of the Barry Halper Collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.  Halper and his hand-picked consultant, Rob Lifson, included in the sale a large group of items stolen from the New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. and the Baseball Hall of Fame.  All of the stolen documents were authenticated for Sotheby’s by current Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez.

One of the first public sales of a letter addressed to August Herrmann at auction occurred in May of 1991 at Richard Wolfers when Gutierrez was listed in the company’s catalog as an “auction agent” along with current Heritage employee Mark Jordan.  Sources indicate that a 1926 letter written to Herrmann by John C. Hendricks regarding “being swindled by John McGraw,” was secured for auction by Gutierrez as one of Duane Garrett’s agents.  File folder 19 from box 24 of the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann archive includes correspondence between Hendricks and Herrmann between 1924 to 1926 when Hendricks was the Reds manager. The letter appeared in a Wolfers catalog that advertised the September 1991 “Treasures” auction that would feature the very same bogus 1882 watch that is now appearing for sale next week at the National in Cleveland along with the stolen Mathewson letter.

The May 1991 Wolfers catalog lists as "auction agents" current Heritage employees Mark Jordan and Mike Gutierrez. That sale featured one of the first public sales of an August Herrmann letter sourced to Gutierrez (inset).

Gutierrez was also familiar with the Herrmann material having authenticated other National League protest documents for Sotheby’s in 1999 including letters by the likes of HOFers Fred Clarke, John J. McGraw, Bill Klem, Joe Tinker, John Evers and Mathewson.  Other letters stolen from the Hall and sold by Halper at Sotheby’s originated from Ford Frick’s file of thank you letters from players who received lifetime passes including Jesse Burkett, George Wright, Sliding Billy Hamilton and Jimmy Collins.

Back in the late 1980s, Gutierrez became the prime suspect in an FBI investigation into the Hall of Fame thefts after he sold a stolen Babe Ruth photo to New York auctioneer Josh Evans and was further implicated after a man who accompanied him on a trip to the Hall of Fame library told investigators he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann archive and placing them in his brief case.  Less than two years after that accusation, Herrmann documents began surfacing in auction sales conducted by Wolfers and Superior at a time when Gutierrez was affiliated with both companies.

Fearing backlash from current and future donors, Hall of Fame officials failed to press charges and pursue recovery and since that time the institution has failed to claim title to any of the stolen documents that have surfaced in the marketplace, mostly via sales at Heritage.  Several reports of the thefts have recently been filed at the local Cooperstown Police Department but without the Hall’s own filings and cooperation, police officials can do little to recover the stolen property.  Hall of Fame officials including PR rep Brad Horn and President Jeff Idelson did not respond to requests for comment on the current Mathewson offering at Heritage.

Heritage’s Sports Director, Chris Ivy, has told Hauls of Shame on numerous occasions that unless the Hall of Fame claims title to the stolen Herrmann letters they are offering for sale, the auction house will not withdraw the lot and will proceed with the sales to the general public.

UPDATE (July 30):  Heritage Withdraws Bogus 1882 Watch & Super Bowl Rings From National Convention Auction; Questioned Gehrig-Day Ticket Was Purchased By HA Consignment Director Rob Rosen

Chris Ivy (left) removed a bogus 1882 Reds pocket watch and two fraudulent Super Bowl rings from HA's current auction. Heritage VP Rob Rosen (right) purchased questioned Gehrig Day ticket.

A few days after we published our initial report identifying Heritage Auction’s 1882 Cincinnati Reds Championship pocket watch as a forgery created by ex-Reds bat boy Randy Marshall, the auction house removed the fraudulent lot from its upcoming sale slated for this Saturday at The House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. Heritage estimated the watch would sell in excess of $60,000.  In addition, Heritage also removed two fraudulent Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl rings attributed to an alleged practice player named Donnie Edwards.  The rings dated from 1975 and 1978 were identified by Michael Borkin of as salesman’s sample examples that had been doctored with non-official engraving.  According to Borkin he informed the Heritage consignor of the issues with the two rings before he consigned the items and also informed Heritage Sports Director, Chris Ivy, of the authenticity issues after they were consigned.  Ivy did not remove the rings from the sale as quickly as he withdrew the fake 1882 Reds pocket watch, but the rings vanished from the HA website without a trace earlier this week.  All three counterfeit items are still featured in the Heritage Platinum Night auction catalog and were expected to realize a combined auction sales price of $150,000 to $200,000.  Several sources indicate that Heritage and the consignors of all three of the fraudulent lots had reason to believe the items were not genuine, yet still placed the items in the public auction in an attempt to unload them on unwitting auction customers.

Had the three bogus items stayed in the Heritage sale the winning bidders may have been out of luck if they discovered the fraud after making an actual purchase.  Heritage’s auction rules state that bidders agree to release the auction house from any liability:

“Release:43. In consideration of participation in the Auction and the placing of a bid, Bidder expressly releases Auctioneer, its officers, directors and employees, its affiliates, and its outside experts that provide second opines, from any and all claims, cause of action, chose of action, whether at law or equity or any arbitration or mediation rights existing under the rules of any professional society or affiliation based upon the assigned description, or a derivative theory, breach of warranty express or implied, representation or other matter set forth within these Terms and Conditions of Auction or otherwise. In the event of a claim, Bidder agrees that such rightsand privileges conferred therein are strictly construed as specifically declared herein; e.g.,authenticity, typographical error, etc. and are the exclusive remedy. Bidder, by non-compliance to these express terms of a granted remedy, shall waive any claim against Auctioneer.”

Despite the fact that several experts say an alleged Lou Gehrig-signed “Gehrig Day” ticket is non-genuine, Heritage has chosen not to remove that controversial lot from its current sale.  Sources indicate that Heritage Vice President and consignment director, Rob Rosen, purchased the same ticket at a fraction of Heritage’s estimated value of $100,000, but it is unclear if Rosen was the actual Heritage consignor for the sale in Cleveland on Saturday.  Hauls of Shame asked Rosen via email if he is the consignor of the 1939 ticket but the Heritage employee did not respond to the inquiry to deny he was the current owner of the questioned item.

The Heritage website indicates that the Gehrig ticket has a current bid of $50,000 but it is also unclear if that bid is real or an artificial “house bid” executed by Heritage or even Rosen himself.  Heritage allows its employees to consign items without disclosing ownership to its customers and bidders and even allows those same employees to bid on their own items as well.  Heritage states that the Gehrig ticket currently has no reserve set by its consignor and the terms and conditions further state:  ”This lot is being sold without a consignor reserve. (Note:  By law, consignors may still bid under certain conditions, but they are responsible for paying the full Buyer’s Premium and Seller’s Commission if they do.)”  Heritage states that this practice of consignors and HA employees bidding on their own material is allowed under “Article 2 of the Texas Business and Commercial Code.”

Look out for an upcoming Hauls of Shame report which goes into more detail as to why Heritage gets away with offering and distributing so many verified and alleged fakes in the marketplace.

Heritage is still offering the Christy Mathewson protested game letter believed to have been stolen from the August Herrmann Papers archive housed in the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown.  The letter has a current bid of $9,000.

UPDATE (July 31st):  Alleged Lou Gehrig Signed Ticket Sells For $95,600; Experts Say Coach’s Corner Gehrig Fakes Are Better Executed Forgeries

The controversial Lou Gehrig Day signed ticket offered by Heritage Auctions earlier this evening realized a sales price of $95,600 at The House of Blues in Cleveland as the second day of the National Sports Collectors Convention came to a close.  Earlier  in the day Hauls of Shame asked several experts in the field for their opinion of an image of the Heritage Gehrig ticket displayed alongside two Gehrig forgeries offered by Coach’s Corner on the inside cover of an SCD issue published in 2002.  It was our opinion that the Heritage example was more poorly executed than the CCSA examples.

The Heritage "Gehrig-Day" signed ticket (left) appears next to two Lou Gehrig forgeries executed on baseballs which appeared in a 2002 Coach's Corner auction.

Here’s some of the reactions:

- “All appear to be in different hands, and not Gehrig’s.”

- “The ticket signature is one of those that if it were at a CCSA auction, (collectors) would call it an obvious piece of crap.  The degree of slant to the right is troublesome and the fake Coach’s Corner sigs look just as good as the ticket.”

-  ”Sure looks like it could be the same forger.”

- “The Coach’s Corner autographs look better.”

- “The two Gehrig balls are signed by the same person. Although the signature on the ticket has some similarities, (it) appears most likely signed by a different hand than the ones on the balls.”

- “I wouldn’t say all three are “horrible” forgeries, just forgeries. Yes, the middle ball has a better signature. The other ball was done by the same person, not as good a signature and the ticket is the worst.”

- “If the Heritage (autograph) is good then why does Coach’s Corner get a bad rap?  Same hand signed both (balls) in my opinion.”

According to these experts, it appears someone just took home a very expensive ticket that was never signed by Lou Gehrig.

(Editor’s Note: We are currently experiencing some problems with our comments section which is presently disabled.  We are trying to fix the problem and will restore that feature as soon as possible.)

By Peter J. Nash
July 18, 2014

Bill Mastro leaves a Chicago courthouse after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud tied to a massive shill-bidding scheme (Chicago Tribune Photo)

When former hobby kingpin Bill Mastro appeared in a Chicago Federal courthouse last October and plead guilty to one count of mail fraud, his plea agreement included details of the auction house improprieties which contributed to his possible five-year sentence in a Federal prison.  Mastro was scheduled to be sentenced last December, but papers filed in court postponed the sentencing until June when it was again pushed off until October.  Mastro’s co-defendant, Mark Theotikos, was also scheduled to change his plea to guilty in June but on Wednesday his hearing was again postponed from July 28th to August 6th when he is expected to enter a guilty plea.  Mastro’s other co-defendant, Doug Allen, is scheduled for trial in September.

Mastro’s plea agreement stipulates that he must cooperate with the Government in its case against his co-defendants but it also details the elaborate shill-bidding scheme that prosecutors allege Mastro and his employees engaged in from 2002 to 2009 at Mastro Auctions.

In Mastro’s plea agreement, filed on October 10, 2013, by Judge Ronald Guzman in the United States District Court of Northern Illinois, the government states that Mastro has admitted his guilt and that he and his employees Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos and others unnamed “knowingly devised and intended to devise, and participated in, a scheme and artifice to defraud the customers of Mastro Auctions, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent practices.” Mastro, as the CEO of Mastro Auctions, admits to misrepresenting and deceiving bidders and to misrepresenting his auction house as a company that “always conducted competitive auctions” and that “greater market demand existed for some items sold by the auction house than actually was the case.”

The plea agreement also alleges that Mastro’s co-defendants Allen and Theotikos and others “engaged in practices designed to protect the interests of consignors and sellers which had the effect of artificially inflating the prices paid by some bidders.”  The court papers describe how Mastro and his associates “placed shill bids, meaning fictitious bids placed without the intent to win the item, which had the effect of artificially inflating the price of an item in the auction.” Mastro says that in doing so he believed that this practice “attracted more bidders” and also protected consignors items from realizing “a sales price below an item’s estimated market value.” Mastro admitted that the shill-bidding scheme “stimulated bidding and increas(ed) the number of bidders” as well as inflating prices “resulting in bidders likely paying more for an item than what they otherwise would have paid.”

Mastro’s plea agreement describes an episode that transpired in 2002 when Mastro “placed shill bids to drive up prices” on items bid on by Tom Noe, a coin dealer and Republican fundraiser from northwest Ohio.  Back in 2006, Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News reported that Ohio investigators suspected Noe had made purchases at Mastro Auctions with state money and that in the course of a probe called “Coin-Gate” discovered that Mastro Auctions “may have engaged in shill bidding and other questionable practices that resulted in inflated prices and auction house commissions.”  Ohio State Auditor Betty Montgomery estimated at the time that Mastro had sold Noe “at least $1.3 million worth of memorabilia” and in 2012 Noe was sentenced to 18 years in state prison for theft, money laundering and other charges.

In one specific instance noted in Mastro’s plea agreement, the government details Mastro’s shill bidding in his 2002 Spring Americana auction against Noe who had contacted Mastro “directly in order to place ceiling bids in the auctions.”  In 2006, an anonymous source told the New York Daily News that “Noe had a secret account with Mastro Auctions, and the only person at Mastro Auctions allowed to conduct transactions with Noe was CEO Bill Mastro.”  The Mastro plea agreement states that Noe placed “up to 100 ceiling bids through defendant depending on the auction.”  Mastro then utilized “a shill account belonging to a friend of an auction house employee to drive up Individual T. N.’s ceiling bids.”  Mastro’s shill bidding ultimately inflated the prices of several items Noe won including “a 1924 John W. Davis Jumbo Campaign Display Badge for $2,338″ and a “set of 1960 John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon Campaign Posters for $2,205.”  The government states that the bidder would have won those auction lots for for a lesser price had Mastro not shilled him.  Mastro also sent invoices and the auction lots to an associate of Noe thus creating the basis for his plea of guilty to one count of mail fraud.

Bill Mastro (inset left) plead guilty to shill bidding former Ohio Republican fundraiser and convicted felon Tom Noe (center). The plea agreement also alleges Mastro and partner Doug Allen (inset right) shill bid a customer on a rare set of Mayo football cards from the 1890s. (bottom).

The government documents show how Mastro “repeatedly shill bid” customers like Noe and also “had access to ceiling bids because of his position” and also detailed how sometimes bidders placed those ceiling bids directly with Mastro and his partner Doug Allen and how Mastro says both men would  ”drive up the bids of certain bidders, by placing shill bids below the bidders’ ceiling bids.”  In another specific instance the court papers state that Allen knew a certain bidder had “placed a ceiling bid of $80,000 on a Mayo football card set” and that Mastro “observed as Allen, using a paddle belonging to Owner A, placed shill bids on the Mayo Football card set knowing that his bids would not win and would trigger Individual C. L.’s ceiling bid.”  The set sold in the 2006 auction for $91,535 including Mastro’s buyers premium.

In addition, the plea agreement details how Mastro masterminded the scheme by utilizing a network of shill bidders including auction house employees, friends of the auction house, the auction house’s corporate account and even an account of a member of Mastro’s own family.  Mastro, the papers reveal, “concealed his participation in certain auctions and his shill bidding by using accounts other than his own” and that Mastro and his associates “placed shill bids using accounts not in their name.”

In other instances the plea describes how Mastro, Allen and Theotikos “ensured that when they placed a shill bid and that shill bid was the highest bid at the end of the auction, that item would not be purchased by the shill bidder.”  Mastro and his associates “sometimes cancelled, or caused cancellation of, the sale of the item.” The government claims that this scheme allowed Mastro and his employees to “bid in the auctions without risk” and that Mastro published “false auction results.”

But the shill bidding scheme didn’t end there as the plea agreement also reveals that Mastro “knowingly permitted five consignors to place bids on the consignors’ own items, using shill bidding accounts belonging to nominees of these consignors to protect the value of those items, which had the effect of artificially inflating the sale price of those items.”  The records seized in the case apparently revealed that, “Between 2002 and 2009, the five consignors placed hundreds of bids on items the consignors owned, using shill accounts.”  Mastro facilitated this shill bidding option and in instances where the consignor’s shilling resulted in a winning bid, “Mastro sometimes directed auction house employees, including mail room employees, to return the auction item to a consignor, rather than delivering it to the nominee who had “won” the item.”  In these cases Mastro is said to have “waived fees due to the auction house” giving consignors “an advantage over legitimate bidders because defendant enabled those consignors to bid, and shill bid, in auctions without risk.”

Bill Mastro sits at the phone banks of his "Best of Yesterday" phone auction in 1996, years before computer and online bidding became the norm in the industry.

Additionally, Mastro also violated a 2007 “Code of Conduct” established by the auction house whereby he “failed to disclose items that were owned by the auction house” and another company “Historical Collectibles” which was owned by the auction house and had its “merchandise, records and other assets” stored at the Mastro auction house.  The agreement reveals that between 2008 and 2009 “Mastro knew that the auction house failed to disclose ownership of over 1,000 items owned by Historical Collectibles” and also engaged in placing “ceiling bids on several hundred items owned by Historical Collectibles that Mastro had previously owned.

The shill bidding by consignors described in Mastro’s plea agreement is the “dirty little secret” that has been kept under wraps by auctioneers and sellers extending well beyond Mastro Auctions.  In September of 2007, convicted felon and ex-drug dealer Leon Luckey, also an auctioneer (Brockelman & Luckey Auctions) and moderator of the collector internet forum Net54, revealed on his forum the inner-workings of the scheme.  Said Luckey, “This scenario happens in every single auction…REA, Mastro, SCP, etc. etc.  It’s just done through friends bidding for other friends and, no, I have never done this on either side.  I know folks that do, and have, though.  So then I say, OK, then lets get it out in the open, total disclosure, but I understand some won’t agree with this mode of thinking.”  Luckey also claimed to have purchased “80% to 90% of (his) best cards” from auction houses and considered Mastro executive Doug Allen a hobby mentor and friend who he defended in 2007 calling him, one of “the greatest guys in the hobby” and “a class act and honest person.”

Contrary to Luckey’s claims that he did not engage in this bidding practice, several sources allege that Luckey was a prime example of this activity and was included in the circle of friends both Mastro and Allen knew engaged in such bidding agreements with other friends and associates. Sources also indicate that since Mastro allegedly destroyed bidding records from the pre-2007 auctions, Luckey felt confident his bidding would not be recognized in the FBI investigation into Mastro.  Between 2007 and 2009 Luckey vehemently defended Mastro and Allen and attacked other forum members who criticized and leveled accusations against the auction house and its principals.  Luckey claimed New York Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe had “a vendetta” against Mastro and banned a forum member named Aaron Michiel for calling him “Mastro Monkey” in his online posts.

Net54 moderator Leon Luckey (left) banned a member who called him "Mastro's Monkey" for his support of Bill Mastro and Doug Allen. The collector "Aaron M." posted his reaction to Mastro's guilty plea on another forum (right).

Another member of the Net54 forum has been an outspoken critic of Mastro and Allen and has also called Luckey “Mastro Monkey,” but only jokingly.  New York defense attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, well known for his defense of mobster John Gotti Jr., has seriously ridiculed Luckey in the past for his support of Mastro Auctions and after the guilty plea was entered made a very public accusation against fellow members in Luckey’s group.  Said Lichtman, “I have seen some of the Mastro bidding records.  And wouldn’t you know it, even some consignors shill bid their own lots.  Even some people on this thread.  Can you imagine that?”

After Mastro’s guilty plea Aaron Michiel took to the Vintage Non Sports Cards chat board after Mastro’s guilty plea stating that back in 2007 he “grasped the scope of (Mastro Auctions’) criminal activity” and reiterated how Luckey was “completely in Bill (Mastro) and Doug’s (Allen) back pocket and defended them at any chance.”  Feeling vindicated even more Michiel referred to Luckey in another post last week writing, “The Mastro Monkey finally turned on his master.”  Aaron then posted Luckey’s recent comments about Mastro’s posting on Paul Lesko’s CardBoard Connection article in which the disgraced auctioneer showed little remorse for his misdeeds.  Luckey responded to that post saying he found Mastro’s statement “disgusting” and promised that he would be writing a letter to Mastro’s judge to voice his displeasure.

One thing that Leon Luckey and Aaron Michiel have in common is that both say they believe they are victims of Mastro’s shill-bidding scheme.  There are scores of Mastro customers and collectors who believe they were shilled as well as others who suspect they were but just don’t know for sure. The one’s who know for sure were contacted by FBI agents in the course of the Mastro investigation and were told the details of the shill-bidding process.

Last year, Paul Lesko published two of the letters written by Mastro’s victims that were sent to Judge Ronald Guzman, but sources indicate that many other letters were sent by victims chronicling their personal stories and thoughts on the ex-hobby kingpin.  Last year Hauls of Shame secured another letter written by Mastro shill-bidding victim Stephen Cummings, a forensic psychologist from Seattle, Washington.  Cummings was contacted by one of Mastro’s attorneys to write a character reference letter to the Judge in support of Mastro but instead decided to write a letter he describes is “quite different from the version his attorneys had suggested.”  In the letter, which was made public by the court on Wednesday, Cummings offers his personal analysis of how Mastro was “sociopathic and abused the trust of his customers.”  Cummings also suggests to the Judge that Mastro “has a severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Antisocial Features” and that he became “addicted to money and power, and enjoyed the process of ’screwing’ unwitting customers.” Cummings also requested a refund for “22% over charges incurred during the shill bidding process.”  Cummings’ letter appears in its entirety (below).

Shill-bidding victim Stephen Cummings sent this "character reference" letter to the Judge in the Mastro case.

The government’s case against Mastro to combat shill-bidding in the sports memorabilia auction industry may have prevented other auctioneers from continuing similar schemes but it is clear that shill-bidding is still a problem, especially on eBay. (If you have other letters sent to the Judge in the Mastro case, send them to: )

By Peter J. Nash

July 11, 2014

Michael O'Keeffe of the New York Daily News (top left) published another inaccurate report; Ken Goldin (bottom left) is offering several suspect items in his Babe Ruth anniversary auction.

-The New York Daily News I-Team and Michael O’Keeffe devoted a full page of newspaper coverage to the court appearance yours truly made last week in Albany, New York. As a result of my having failed to file several NY State tax returns on time, I appeared and plead guilty to a misdemeanor for filing my 2012 state return late.  My appearance was apparently big news and somehow appropriate for the sports section of the paper where Michael O’Keeffe rehashed previous reports about my legal wranglings with his personal associates– institutional thief Rob Lifson and convicted felon Robert Fraser. True to form, O’Keeffe reported information that was both false and misleading.

-O’Keeffe knew that there was no sentence of probation issued but falsely reported that I had been sentenced to 3 years probation by the court.  O’Keeffe wrote, “The Albany District Attorney’s Office says that Nash will be on probation for three years…”  O’Keeffe, however, was well aware from the DA’s press release that 3 years probation was only the maximum penalty that could be issued by the court for such a misdemeanor and that no sentence of probation had been ordered.  Having cooperated fully with the DA’s office during the process I had also paid my back taxes and fines before my court appearance, however, O’Keeffe also falsely reported that I was “ordered to pay $13,101 in back taxes and interest.”  The DA’s press release clearly stated that I had already paid that amount without any order from the court. In addition, O’Keeffe continues to inaccurately claim in his reports that I am a memorabilia dealer and also failed to contact me or my attorney for an opportunity to comment on his story. Reporting the facts from a press release is so easy even a caveman can do it.  Apparently it’s not that easy for the agenda-driven Michael O’Keeffe who clearly has an ax to grind with this writer who has been highly critical of his on-going journalistic malfeasance that appears to have contributed to his own legal problems including a lawsuit filed against him by A-Rod’s lawyer Joe Tacopina. The lawsuit claims that O’Keeffe is an “unethical newspaper reporter” and that his reports about Tacopina contained “numerous factually inaccurate statements.”  In addition, the suit alleges O’Keeffe was involved in a conspiracy with convicted felon Bernard Kerik to file a complaint against Tacopina so he could publish an article describing the allegations.  O’Keeffe’s conduct with Tacopina is reminiscent of his inappropriate and unethical relationship with Rob Lifson’s lawyers Barry Kozyra and Mark Eberle who are alleged to have committed ethics violations in order to enhance O’Keeffe’s reports targeting this writer.

PSA/DNA says they could not authenticate the alleged Mantle signature (highlighted in red) on Denny Esken's alleged game-used glove appearing for sale at Goldin. PSA/DNA did authenticate all of the other Mantle signatures appearing on other gloves (above). Several experts told HOS that the Mantle signature on Esken's glove is bogus.

-Michael O’Keeffe also devoted space in another NYDN column to promote Goldin Auction’s sale of an alleged Mickey Mantle game-used glove owned by PSA/DNA glove authenticator Denny Esken.  The article says that Esken, a known O’Keeffe source, is selling his “prized possessions” but O’Keeffe glosses over the fact that Esken has authenticated his own Mantle glove which is appearing in Ken Goldin’s Babe Ruth Anniversary Auction.  According to O’Keeffe, Goldin says the glove could fetch upwards of $200,000 and has a current bid of $75,000.  As chronicled in previous Hauls of Shame reports, Esken’s dubious authentications have been exposed for claiming false “photo matches” and exaggerated claims of historic game use for gloves attributed to Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams.  Now, Esken is selling his own Mickey Mantle glove which he claims was used by the Mick in either 1965 or 1966 as his “last known glove used as a center fielder.”  Aside from the fact it appears that Ken Goldin and Esken have failed to disclose all of the details relating to the provenance and manufacturing of the glove in the lot description, it is even more notable that the so-called experts at PSA/DNA would not authenticate the Mantle signature found on the glove.  According to Goldin, “PSA/DNA has examined the glove and issued their Certificate of Authenticity. For disclosure purposes we note that PSA was unable to authenticate the signature on the glove, likely due to the fact it was signed on pre-oiled leather.”  The Mantle experts we spoke with, however, were all of the opinion that the alleged signature on Esken’s glove was a forgery describing the signature as “uncharacteristic,” “super funky bad,” and “all out of whack.” Is that why PSA/DNA wouldn’t render an opinion?  Could it be because Esken, himself, authenticated his own glove for the same company and his fellow authenticators won’t call the signature a forgery fearing that the value of the glove might plummet?  We asked Ken Goldin what his opinion was of the Mantle signature but he did not return our calls for comment.  One other expert added, “I see that they (PSA/DNA) were certain that the number 7 on the glove was penned by Mantle. They can tell that but they can’t tell if a clear Mantle signature was signed by him or not?”

This 1916-17 contract between Babe Ruth and the Red Sox was sold by Lelands in 1994 and predates the current 1918 contract being offered by Goldin as the "earliest existing Ruth contract." Goldin says the Lelands contract is missing in action.

-Goldin Auctions also has a current bid of $670,000 on what they claim is the “Earliest Existing Babe Ruth Contract” dated from the 1918 season.  That seemed odd to us since Lelands sold a 1916-17 Ruth Red Sox contract back in the 1990’s with an estimated value of “$20,000-$30,000.  So, when we posted that information on Twitter Goldin Auctions responded stating, “Unfortunately, this contract has been missing for three years, according to its rightful owner.  Presumed lost stolen or destroyed.”  We asked the auction house if there was ever a police report filed by the owner but Goldin did not respond.  Lelands Chairman Josh Evans also declined comment on the whereabouts of the contract and could not recall who won the lot back in 1994.  Goldin appears to think that his claim to the “earliest contract” is valid because the whereabouts of the 1916 contract are allegedly unknown but he does not mention this fact anywhere in the lot description.  The only way it could be the earliest contract would be if the 1916-17 document was, in fact, destroyed.  Since Goldin can’t confirm that the contract does not exist, their claim to the earliest contract is misleading to say the least.  Collectors, dealers and auctioneers should keep their eyes peeled for the Bambino’s player agreement from ‘16.  The 1918 contract being sold by Goldin was once part of the Barry Halper collection and part of a cache of Ruth documents he acquired in the 1980’s.  Halper said he purchased the contract from someone who found the documents in a shoe-box tucked away in the attic of Jacob Ruppert’s old house, but as chronicled in our upcoming book The Madoff of Memorabilia, Halper lied about the source of the most valuable shoe-box in baseball history.

These are nine of the ten existing Babe Ruth 1914 Baltimore News rookie cards.

-Babe Ruth’s 1916 contract isn’t the only Ruthian artifact known to vanish into thin air.  In the past items including his 1927 World Series ring, his 1925 separation agreement with his first wife and even his last will and testament have disappeared.  The will was recovered by the New York State Attorney General’s office but others are still at large.  Ken Goldin is also offering one of the rarest and most desirable of Ruth artifacts known to exist—his 1914 Baltimore News rookie card.  The current bid on the card is $390,000 but the lot has not yet reached its reserve. The card is one of only ten examples known to exist with five of those copies owned by collectors Richard Masson and Corey Shanus.  Reports say that there was once an eleventh card in the possession of a collector but that example is said to have been lost or accidentally destroyed.  If Ruth’s 1916 contract was also destroyed, that’s well over a million bucks in Bambino artifacts that have bit the dust.

-Lelands currently has its own controversy brewing over its sale of football legend Jim Brown’s 1964 NFL Championship ring.  Brown claims the ring was stolen from him but Lelands already sold the ring in a public auction in 1998.  Lelands Chairman Josh Evans issued this statement for us:  ”Jim Brown has known about this ring for many years as he undoubtedly knows about all the other memorabilia of his that has been unfortunately sold by his family.  I showed him the ring personally at an auction preview the first time we sold it in the 1990s.  I believe he was embarrassed by the big headlines it made and the friends and associates who contacted him asking how he could sell his ring as he stated.  Perhaps it was easier for him to say it was stolen than to admit a harsher truth.  The last thing we ever wanted to do was embarrass the greatest player in football history.  But this is the profession we have chosen and these types of things have happened before and will happen again as long as memorabilia is bought and sold and loved with such passion.”

Experts say the Cobb signed ball in Goldin's current auction (top right) is a forgery. The ball is pictured above with other PSA and JSA-certed Cobb balls that experts also say are fakes. The ball highlighted in red (bottom right) is said to be authentic.

-Operation Bambino has shed some more light on Babe Ruth forgeries and the styles of particular Ruth forgers but Ty Cobb runs a close second in the hobby fraud department.  Goldin is currently offering a Cobb single-signed ball that has been identified by numerous experts as a forgery of the “Georgia Peach.”  The same ball sold last year at Legendary Auctions and was identified after the sale as a forgery in a Hauls of Shame report.  Both PSA/DNA and JSA have a long history of authenticating Cobb fakes and you only have to view the Goldin example with other PSA and JSA-certed balls that experts say are fakes to see that the so-called gurus at PSA and JSA know as little about Cobb as they do Ruth.