Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

Aug. 2, 2012

Public company Collectors Universe is under fire for alleged fraud committed by subsidiary PSA, who authenticated and graded the Honus Wagner card the FBI says was trimmed.

The Federal indictments leveled against Bill Mastro and former Mastro employees last week revealed that Mastro has supposedly admitted to trimming the infamous Gretzky-McNall Wagner, which was graded by PSA as a “Near Mint 8,” the highest graded Wagner known.  The controversial card is currently the property of Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, who paid $2.8 million for it in 2008.

The FBI’s mention of Mastro’s admission confirmed the suspicions hobbyists have had for years about the card, but also illustrate how the authentication giant PSA/DNA was founded on a fraud, knowingly grading a trimmed and altered card.  Most recently PSA has also been implicated in the authentication of laser-printed forgeries that they encapsulated in PSA holders just like the one the Wagner card is housed.

Mastro’s fraudulent Honus Wagner card is the same one pictured on the Collectors Universe 2010 annual shareholders report (CLCT:NASDAQ) as a shining example and symbol of the company’s excellence in authentication and its standing as the leader in the industry. Also appearing on the CU report cover is another controversial collectible that has also for years been suspected to be the product of fraud and trickery, the record-breaking $300,000 single-signed Babe Ruth baseball that is currently being offered by Heritage Auctions at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Baltimore, Md. It shares another thing in common with the fraudulent Wagner card, it, too, has ties to Mastro Auctions as it was sold by Bill Mastro in a 2002 auction for $61,000. The ball was authenticated by James Spence and Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Mike Gutierrez of MastroNet.  The same ball first appeared at auction in 2000 and was sold by David Hunt of Hunt Auctions in Exton, PA for a then-record price of $72,600.  The record price surpassed the sale of another very similar Ruth ball sold by Bill Mastro at Mastro Fine Sports for $55,660.

At the time the record was broken Mastro told the Maine Antique Digest, “We set the table when we sold a Babe Ruth ball for over thirty thousand dollars back in June at our West Coast auction, and that was considered miraculous. Then a ball sold at Sotheby’s Barry Halper sale in September for nearly fifty thousand, and that set the table for us to get almost sixty thousand last November and more than sixty thousand for our Ruth and Gehrig ball. There is a frenzy for these big-ticket mint Babe Ruth balls. Does a better one exist? Probably. There is always a better one.”

The Hunt auction description said their Ruth single-signed ball “was acquired on the set of the Babe Ruth Story in California and given by Claire Ruth to a United Artist publicist. It is being consigned by his family and will be accompanied by a detailed letter of provenance from the family along with a letter of authenticity from Michael Gutierrez.”  The ball was sold with what was said to be its original Reach box as well.

PSA issued the LOA pictured above but expert Ron Keurajian is of the opinion that the alleged Ruth signature is not genuine.

That same ball is being offered at Heritage, with an alleged current bid of $280,000, and makes no mention of an original ball box accompanying the ball.  Heritage also states:
Accompanying the ball is a letter from Stephen Stoll dated August 17, 1999, which states “My father, William Stoll, was a Hollywood publicist who worked on the movie called “The Babe Ruth Story.” The movie starred William Bendix as Babe Ruth. Mr. Ruth’s widow gave this ball to my father and it’s been in my family ever since.

Despite the alleged letter of provenance, autograph expert and author of “A Guide to Hall of Fame Autographs (McFarland, 2012),” Ron Keurajian, told us, “In my opinion the signature on that ball is not genuine.”

Stephen Koschal first questioned the Ruth ball and its inclusion on the cover of the CU annual report in a report published on Autograph Alert in 2011.

Authenticator Richard Simon has also been suspicious of the ball, “”I always wanted to have it in hand, for a real examination, because I was never sure if it was good, I am not saying it is not good, I just would like to see it in person and study it.”

The record-breaking Ruth ball, along with several others, has long been the subject of controversy and has been part of our continuing Operation Bambino investigations.

To see just how treacherous the collecting of high-grade single-signed baseballs is, one only has to pick up a copy of Koschal’s new book “Collecting Signatures of the Presidents of the United States on Baseballs.”  In the book, Koschal illustrates a Harry Truman single-signed baseball that appeared for sale at Mastro Auctions in May of 2001 and at R&R Auctions in November of 2004 as a low grade example of the former President’s signature.  The ball originally came with a MastroNet LOA at the time Mike Gutierrez was working for the company and when it sold at R&R its authenticity was described as, “COA John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA & R&R COA.”

These photographs are of the same single-signed Harry Truman baseball. On the left is how it looked when it sold at MastroNet in 2001. On the right is how it appeared at EAC Galleries in 2005 as the "finest example extant.""

Then, miraculously (and reminiscent of the now infamous magically appearing Honus Wagner signature in another Mastro sale)  the exact same Truman ball appeared in EAC Galleries’ February, 2005, sale as the highest graded Truman ball in existence.  It was described as “bold and pristine”  and the “finest example extant.”  When it sold in 2005 EAC’s description stated, “Provenance John Reznikoff.”  Reznikoff is the primary authenticator of political and historic autographs and manuscripts for both PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication (JSA).

In relation to the high-grade single-signed balls in the hobby,  Koschal states in his new book, “The recent discovery and example may certainly be the answer to all those beautiful white baseballs that have appeared in auctions during the last dozen years that contain a “10″ signature of Babe Ruth that have sold for $100,000+”

Koschal also states his belief that the Truman ball appears to have been “professionally cleaned” and the signature enhanced possibly by some form of chemical enhancement.  The Truman signature has confounded experts who find it hard to believe the signature could have been enhanced by hand like a signed forgery.  However, the same experts and also members of law enforcement have not been able to determine what process this forgery was created with.

PSA/DNA authenticator John Reznikoff authenticated the Truman ball when it was barely visible and was listed as “provenance” when it sold at EAC as the “finest extant.  Reznikoff’s website for his company University Archives states:  “He (Reznikoff) is the first and only expert to combine his primary work as an autograph authenticator with a great study of forensic document examination. His lab is one of the most advanced of its kind outside of the FBI.”

Sources indicate that Reznikoff also authenticated the alleged hair of Elvis Presley that was deemed non-genuine by the FBI in the Mastro indictments.  Collecting hair is even more dangerous than collecting autographs as evidenced by Robert Edward Auctions sale of a bogus lock of Babe Ruth’s hair from the Barry Halper collection.  For years Halper held the hair out as genuine and claimed that it was authenticated by Ruth himself in an accompanying letter and envelope.  The letter and envelope were determined to be forgeries.  James Spence stated that the letters were non-malicious secretarial signatures when REA sold the hair to an unsuspecting victim for $38,000.

PSA authenticators Steve Grad (far left) and John Reznikoff (center) pose with Bill Mastro on a photo from Grad's PSA biography.

We made an inquiry to PSA/DNA head-honcho, Joe Orlando, for a  comment on the authenticity of the highest graded PSA Babe Ruth  ball appearing in Heritage.  We also asked for his explanation as to how his employee, John Reznikoff, could have authenticated the Truman ball for PSA when the signature was barely visible, and then be listed as the ball’s “provenance” when it was later sold as  the “finest extant.”  Orlando did not respond to our request.  Orlando has also failed to respond to other media inquiries about his company’s grading of the controversial PSA-8 Wagner that is tied to the Federal indictment of Bill Mastro. Orlando’s top autograph authenticator, Steve Grad, is a former MastroNet employee and authenticator. Orlando and PSA appear to have scrubbed profiles they had written about Bill Mastro and Doug Allen on the PSA website.

Chris Ivy, of Heritage Auctions did respond to our inquiry about the Ruth ball.  We asked Ivy to provide the original letter from 1999 written by the son of the man who worked on the set of the Babe Ruth movie in 1948, and we also asked if he had verified the story detailed in that letter.  Ivy was also asked if the original box accompanied the ball.  Ivy did not forward a copy of the letter and said, “Between meetings with industry people and the demands of press coverage of the auction, I’m afraid it will be a few days before I can address your provenance questions in the detail I’m sure you’re hoping to receive. I should note, of course, that both PSA/DNA and James Spence are fully confident in the authenticity of the signature.”


21 Comments

  1. I wonder if these guys will continue to refinish balls in jail?

    Comment by pickles — August 2, 2012 @ 9:53 am

  2. The enhancement to the Truman ball is amazing! Not too smart to alter an autograph that has been featured in many auctions.

    Comment by Troy Thompson — August 2, 2012 @ 10:03 am

  3. It just keeps getting better and better and these so cal;led experts just keep digging the holes around them deeper and deeper.The way it has been going, they are going to have to build a joint to house them all.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — August 2, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  4. Bill, this are on sale for just $4.95
    Should come in handy while in jail.

    http://tinyurl.com/bqmfu9x

    Comment by Kenesaw Mountain Landis — August 2, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

  5. Truman = wow

    Was at National today…..felt awkward

    Comment by Justin Brooks — August 3, 2012 @ 12:17 am

  6. Never buy from PSA or JSA get these guys out of business so they don’t ruin the hobby even more. The stuff PSA does with entertainment autographs is fraudulent and they should be shut down for good. I hope they get banned from the NATIONAL and no third party authentication companies will never have a say in sports memorabilia auctions. Joe Orlando can only hide for too long and the FBI will be up his ass. All these authenticators are just greedy.

    Comment by Sam — August 3, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

  7. Joe Orlando don’t take my phone calls any more. The heat must be getting intense. So I will put the question out to you on this broad. Joe were is all the forensic documents paper on the Wagner PSA-8 card. The card was made under 1921 so to authenticate like you say your company do. You must check for Tritium dioxide. I checked it on my card Joe (0.00%). I got paper work for days Joe on my card authenticity. I knew this day would come. Joe and Mastro you spoke out on my Wagner card (Cobb/Edwards) being a reprint,fake, and doctored. But you are going down for the things you have accuse me of. That is why you (Joe Orlando) never wanted to meet me in person. PSA and others will get and are getting what is do to them. I WANT TO SEE THE FORENSIC TEST DONE ON THE PSA-8 WAGNER JOE. Put up! So Corrupted…………

    Comment by R. Edwards — August 5, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

  8. They did a movie about it called “the Truman show” It was all an illusion.

    Comment by TRAVIS R0STE — August 5, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

  9. well, someone thought that Babe Ruth was real, it went for over $380I. Dewey wins!!!!!

    Comment by Dewey Wins — August 5, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

  10. When this is all over, I’d like to see an article about SCD and T. S. (Tom) O’Connell, (and Lemke, too) and what he and they probably knew but never reported. “Voice of the Hobby” my buttsky! lol I know O’Connell is gone, thankfully, but he defended Halper to the end.

    Comment by Marc Rettus — August 14, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

  11. Did I say something bad? Just bemoaning the fact that PSA’s stupidity is only giving false cover to defenders of the Cobb-Edwards ‘Wagner,’ forensic quackery and all.

    Comment by roy cullenbine — August 29, 2012 @ 12:53 am

  12. To quote Koschal is ridiculous here. He has a clear anti PSA and JSA agenda and his site was shut down. I don’t know if the Ruth is 100% genuine and neither does anyone else! ALL authenticators render OPINIONS, ALL OF THEM! Only the signer and the Man upstairs knows for sure. The Truman ball clearly looks fixed, but HOW? If there was a way to do that, I’m quite sure there would be a lot more Mint Ruth, Gehrig, Young, Wagber,etc out there, but it is very clear. There has been talk about the Wagner being trimmed for decades and yet, it keeps getting sold. As it will NEVER be taken out of the holder, we’ll never really know.

    Whoever wants to “shut down” PSA, JSA and all third party authenticators must have short memories. I’ve been in the Hobby for 30 years and in the Wild Wild West days of NO third parties, so much bad stuff was sold, it was insane. Like them or not, mistakes or not, they have cleared up a lot of bad stuff and helped the Hobby grow. As long as an educated, non biased opinion was rendered, it’s OK with me.

    To be clear, I ONLY support PSA/DNA and JSA and ONLY because without them, we’d go back to the dark ages.

    Comment by Mickey Mantle — September 14, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

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    Comment by Babe Ruth Signed Baseball Auction — October 17, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

  14. Re: # 12, so you are ok with big league powerful and fraud mongering PSA because “it’s better than nothing.” That is the gist of your logic, right?
    Suppose: You need a baby sitter for your 9 year old daughter for the night and the only option available to watch her is your neighbors daughter who has a meth habit but is really nice when she is around you and your family. You will use her because she is better than nothing. No, you won’t.
    PSA DOES need to be shut down and be replaced by a company with integrity and safeguards in place to prevent internal greed and fraud. So forgive me, but you are stupid!!

    Comment by Ima Scammer — December 20, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  15. The autograph fiasco is just the tip of the iceberg at Collectors Universe, which is primarily owned by David Hall. Mr. Hall is also a primary owner of their rare coin authentication service, which Steve Ivy, a life-long associate of Mr. Hall, requires that all coins auctioned by Ivy’s Heritage Auctions, be graded by PCGS. This is clearly a conflict of interest to deep to go into here.
    A real third party did an investigation of Hall’s/Ivy’s “third party” authentication service, as noted below in Wikipedia with a search for PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service). I quote:

    “In the May 26, 2003 edition of Coin World, the hobby newspaper had announced they had contracted investigators to conduct a year-long, comparative study of PCGS, ACCGS, NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation) and several other grading services, each known as a Third Party Grader (TPG). In their investigation, several of the same coins were sent to each grading service over the course of a year, each graded by all Third Party Graders sent to. Their findings: In no case did the grading services agree on the grade of the many coins sent in, and in some cases the difference in grading was seven points off on the standard Sheldon coin grading scale of 1 to 70. The Coin World article cited several cases, such as a case where ACCGS had correctly noted that a coin had been cleaned while the other services had overlooked this aspect. ACCGS graded the coin several points lower than PCGS, while PCGS had not noted the same coin was cleaned although it clearly had been, evidenced by wire brushing. This was neither the first nor last time PCGS had failed to note when coins had been cleaned. In June 1998, PCGS had failed to note on their holders that thousands of shipwreck coins had been cleaned, although the coins slabbed by PCGS had been encrusted with sea debris and barnacles, and subsequently cleaned in acid baths prior to grading by PCGS.

    It is standard for professional numismatic dealers to note when coins have been cleaned or treated in acid baths. Not doing is often considered unprofessional and unethical by most professional numismatists, according to Coin World’s May, 2003 articles. Further, in U.S. Numismatics, it is standard to grade coins on a point-scale from 1 (poor) to 70 (perfect) and to note on the coin holder if a coin has been cleaned or poorly mishandled, or in many cases, to reject it for encapsulation or “slabbing” if the coins have been cleaned harshly.

    In 1990 the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil action against PCGS alleging exaggerated advertising claims. PCGS came to a settlement with the SEC in which it did not admit wrongdoing but agreed to submit its advertising for review for five years and to include a statement in its advertising saying, “the rare coin market is a highly speculative, unregulated market and certification by P.C.G.S. does not guarantee protection against the normal risks associated with volatile markets.”[2]

    In September 2004, members of the American Numismatic Association reported seeing counterfeit PCGS slabs at the Long Beach Coin Show. More were reported on eBay in the years following,[3] but PCGS did not address the issue until March 27, 2008.”

    ….Apparently, someone who works at PCGS or a dealer heavily invested in PCGS coins, attempted to delete the information above with the bogus assertion that “The investigation was too long ago.” That of course, does not hold water for many reasons, including the fact that all one has to do is look at PCGS (and NGC, ANACS, etc.) graded coins on eBay and see tremendous inconsistencies on recently graded coins. They’re obviously still playing favorites, particularly with their own consignors and their own companies. How do we think they can afford to pay hundreds of employees every week and buy their huge office buildings?

    They use to brag that they spend millions of dollars to hype their own hype, but I guess they later realized that it’s obvious that those millions are coming from naive collectors who would spend their money and time more wisely by learning to grade and authenticate for themselves. I’ve met some of the PCGS and NGC “experts”, and believe me, if they can learn to grade, anyone can learn to grade/authenticate even better.

    Comment by Jamie Taylor — March 14, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  16. @Jamie: No surprises about PSA nor PCGS. I attend dozens of coin shows every year, and every year show it’s easy to see dozens of coin dealers with their trash cans filled with the plastic slabs that PCGS over-grades and under-grades or outright attributes some of the coins. I must admit I bought a few PSA cards and PCGS coins in the past, but thank goodness the lord gave us hacksaws, to liberate these innocent little fellows who don’t deserve plastic tombs, with their gravestones authored by phony and fraudulent “expert” engravers.

    Comment by J.T. Williams — March 17, 2013 @ 5:34 am

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