Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

August 14, 2015

Hauls of Shame has been saying it for years, but Jimmy Spence confirmed it in a letter filed recently in the Bill Mastro auction fraud case in Chicago. In the letter submitted to the Judge who will be sentencing Mastro on August 20th, Spence stated that his mentor devised and instituted the 3rd party authentication business that now controls the hobby and also stated that despite Mastro’s pleading guilty to engaging in shill bidding and mail fraud, he believes that his good friend is responsible for “pioneering” what he calls the “standard of integrity in the autographed memorabilia business.”

In addition, Spence told the Judge that he has accompanied Mastro on religious pilgrimages and believes that the disgraced auctioneer does not deserve any jail time after defrauding countless customers and hobbyists.  In fact, Spence’s letter is one of many supporting Mastro’s plea for leniency from the Judge who has also received letters from Mastro’s victims which describe him as a sociopath and unrepentant criminal who took advantage of and swindled close friends and associates. Spence describes Mastro’s pioneering work in the authentication business as an endeavor that protected collectors, but the evidence that has come to light during the Mastro investigation starkly contradicts Spence’s assertions.

Jimmy Spence of JSA wrote this letter in support of Bill Mastro in 2012 but it has only made its way to the Judge sentencing Bill Mastro in the last few weeks.

While Mastro and Spence claimed that authenticators were enhancing the auction process for buyers, the system devised by Mastro simply created a delivery system by which a closely knit and incestuous network of business partners could create a false sense of security among collectors via marketing while at the same time increasing revenues and assuring that the same collectors could never return fake merchandise to auctioneers after a sale.  In his letter to Mastro’s Judge, Spence claims that the authentication system created “universal trust and unprecedented value” but collectors who have contacted Hauls of Shame since Mastro’s 2012 indictment sing a different tune although many of them have refused to go public with their stories as victims of the Mastro syndicate.  A source confirmed for us the story of one victimized collector who has refused to write a letter to Mastro’s Judge to request a harsher sentence and restitution. The same collector also declined to contact FBI agents to detail Mastro’s sales of bogus autographs certified authentic by Jimmy Spence.  That being said, we think it is important to present this story to the collecting community while not revealing the identity of the collector who, we are told, wishes to remain anonymous.

In the year 2000, the collector paid over $10,000 in a MastroNet sale for an autographed Babe Ruth photograph authenticated by Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA. Based upon the letter of authenticity he received from the authenticator endorsed by Bill Mastro, the collector felt secure that he had just purchased a genuine signature of the Bambino. He kept the signed photo in his collection for thirteen years and in 2013 decided to consign it to Dave Kohler and SCP Auctions in California where it appeared as lot in an SCP catalog.  But when the photo was examined by Spence’s old partner, Steve Grad of PSA/DNA, it was not issued a letter of authenticity by the company, despite having the previously issued PSA/DNA letter signed by Spence in 2000.  Our source says the collector was shocked and when he spoke with the SCP auction representative he was told that he should put the item on eBay with his old LOA from Jimmy Spence.

The Ruth photo purchased at Mastro in 2000 with a Spence/PSA LOA appeared in a 2013 SCP catalog (left). The Ruth signatured matched the style of other Ruth signatures used in PSA advertisements in SCD and other publications (right).

This news was even more stunning to the collector because the Ruth signature on his photo was almost identical to others authenticated by PSA/DNA for over a decade and even utilized in company advertisements and testimonials. The collector, in turn, did not think the advice from SCP was ethical and decided to consign the photo again to Hunt Auctions which used Jimmy Spence and his new company JSA to authenticate auction lots.  The collector figured that Spence would have to stand by his original authentication, but he was subsequently informed by Hunt employees that Spence had also failed the item he had previously authenticated for Mastro.  The Hunt auction representative also accidentally sent the owner of the photo high resolution scans of the Ruth signature and evidence of the word “Sincerely” having been removed from the photograph.

The reality of the situation, however, was that by 2013 reporting by Hauls of Shame had illustrated how both Spence, Grad and PSA/DNA had been authenticating hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ruth forgeries for several decades.  By 2013, both authentication companies had no other choice but to fail these items when they were presented for examination and the owners of the items were left holding some very expensive bags.

Jimmy Spence rejected the Ruth signature he authenticated in 2000 for Mastro and hi-res scans sent to the owner by Hunt Auctions revealed the word "Sincerely" had been removed from the photo. Despite knowing this, PSA President Joe Orlando (right) told the owner he should try to unload the fake on eBay with the original Spence LOA from his company.

The collector who owned the Ruth forgery from the 2013 SCP sale allegedly decided to contact Joe Orlando, the president of PSA/DNA, in order to request relief or a refund from the company for its documented admission of authenticating the bogus item in 2000.  According to our source, Orlando told the collector that hobbyists, himself included, were some times burned by fakes and it was necessary in such situations to just take the loss and move on. Orlando told him that the PSA/DNA letter of authenticity did not guarantee any refund or recourse for him and that PSA/DNA had never reimbursed a customer for an item that was previously authenticated and later was confirmed to be a forgery.  Incredibly, the source revealed to Hauls of Shame that Orlando suggested that the collector “put the fake photo on eBay with the old Spence letter of authenticity” to see if he could sell it there.  The collector we’re told was both shocked and appalled at Orlando’s suggestion which he viewed as outright fraud and deception. Orlando is known for signing off on official PSA letters and articles by stating, “Never get cheated.”

PSA and JSA have been authenticating scores of big-ticket Ruth fakes for decades as evidenced by the fakes featured in this montage, all of which are bogus. PSA now shows this type of Ruth forgery on its website while suggesting that customers unload the fakes on eBay.

This episode surely doesn’t support Spence’s claims in his letter supporting Bill Mastro that the authentication business is built “on a solid foundation based on integrity and morality.” In fact, it documents the level of fraud and dishonesty that exists in both companies at their highest levels. This situation and scores of others reported previously by Hauls of Shame also demonstrate the level of self-dealing between so-called experts and auction houses and the monopoly status that both PSA and JSA enjoy in the field of authentication.  That monopoly status has been described as a cartel in several Federal anti-trust lawsuits filed recently against PSA and JSA by Nelson Deedle and Todd Mueller.

The 3rd party authentication companies are totally unregulated and our source tells us that the collector victimized by Mastro’s auction with the bogus Ruth photo told Joe Orlando it was his goal to have the authenticators face federal regulation and that their LOA’s should have bold-faced language stating that the opinions detailed on the PSA and JSA certificates give collectors no real guarantee or protection.  Our source said, “It should be like the Surgeon General’s notice on cigarettes, letting collectors know that these letters don’t guarantee anything and are written by people with no formal training or actual expertise.” The collector allegedly contacted his local congresswoman in New York’s 17th District, Nita Lowey, asking for relief and to have the Federal government investigate and regulate the authenticators. Hauls of Shame called Lowy’s office in Washington for comment but they did not respond to our inquiry.

Reaction to Jimmy Spence’s letter supporting Mastro and requesting no jail time for the disgraced auctioneer was overwhelming. Collectors, dealers, media representatives and hobby executives across the board found Spence’s letter both reprehensible and unbelievable.  One high placed hobby executive told us, “That Spence letter is absolutely ridiculous, what was he thinking?”  Another executive was not surprised by the letter stating, “For him to have written that letter just shows how much dirt Bill Mastro must have on him having controlled him for so long.”  Mastro was famous for telling collectors he had to “twist” Spence’s arm for LOA’s on auction consignments and even wrote a letter to this writer in the 1990s claiming “the so-called autograph experts we have in our business don’t know shit.”

Bill Mastro is on record in a handwritten letter stating he felt that authenticators didn't "know shit" in 1994 and afterwards devised the 3rd party authentication system utilizing and promoting his own friendly experts like (l to r bottom) Steve Grad, John Reznikoff, Roger Epperson, Zach Rullo and Jimmy Spence.

The most vocal hobby critic of Mastro and his sentencing is collector and New York defense attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, who has represented several parties involved in the Mastro investigation and is also one of Mastro’s shill-bidding victims. After reading Spence’s letter Lichtman told us, “Spence’s letter was stunning because he’s ostensibly in the business of protecting hobbyists from fraud — yet here he is front and center supporting the biggest fraud in the hobby.  Spence obviously doesn’t care that this looks bad for him and people who submit autographs for his authentication should keep this in mind.  If he’s willing to support a thief like Bill Mastro what else is he capable of in this hobby?”

When told that our source claims that Joe Orlando told a collector to unload a Spence authenticated fake Lichtman responded, “I’d be greatly disappointed to learn that Joe Orlando told a collector to sell a fake Ruth autograph on eBay.  If true, I suppose we can’t be surprised that Spence and Mastro were involved as well.”

But what really irks Lichtman and many other collectors more than anything else is Spence’s mention of Mastro’s finding religion after his downfall and Mastro’s lawyers presentation of his faith-based charitable works in pleas to the Judge for a lighter sentence.  Lichtman told us, ” Religion is the last refuge of a scoundrel and Bill Mastro is no different.  But as typical of Bill, he even can’t stop committing fraud in his religion.  As noted in the indictment one of his shill bidding accounts was in the name of a priest.  Think about how low that is for a second.  But that’s Bill Mastro, breaking records all the way down to hell.”

Despite all of the outrage in the hobby over talk of a light sentence for Mastro it appears that many of his victims, including the collector with the bogus $10,000 Ruth photo, have not written to the Judge to detail the full scope of fraud committed by Mastro and his company.  Lichtman is not surprised by the apathy and non-action in the hobby and told us, “The great majority of Mastro’s victims won’t write letters to the judge for a handful of reasons. Most people believe fraud is part of the hobby and thus they don’t mind being ripped off. Many others conspired with Mastro to shill their own consignments and thus don’t dare put in a letter to the Court for fear of being outed as a co-conspirator by Mastro’s lawyers and lastly, there’s a segment of the hobby that believes they may have a minuscule chance of making a dollar with Mastro in the years to come and don’t want to spoil that chance.  Pitiful excuses all.”

On Thursday the Government submitted its papers for the Mastro sentencing and it included a 2008 conversation between Mastro and a Confidential Witness about baseball cards he was selling that were graded by PSA:

Mastro: I really don’t give a shit if the stuff’s real or not. Okay. I don’t care if its trimmed. I don’t care if it’s real. I, if I look at it and I think it’s real, I want the authenticators to look at it and think it’s real. You think that all these PSA cards we’re auctioning are, aren’t unaltered? They’re all altered. The alteration going on, it is unbelievable in our hobby right now. Okay. There’s not a sheet that gets auctioned off that isn’t cut up. Every sheets getting cut up. Goud(e)y sheets, Diamond Star sheets, basketball sheets, every sheet you see in the auction is being bought by someone who is cutting them up.

Joe Orlando of PSA did not respond to our request for comment about his alleged instructions to the collector to sell the fake Babe Ruth autograph on eBay or the Mastro conversation detailed in the Government’s report. James Spence of JSA has never responded to any of our requests for comment including our inquiries about the 100 worst authentications of both PSA/DNA and JSA.