The big hobby news last week next to the Eli Manning memorabilia scandal was the FBI search of the Arkansas home and office of longtime hobbyist John Rogers. Sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that agents from the Chicago office of the FBI working on the Mastro case led the search which yielded a trove of memorabilia including items sold by REA and SCP and other bogus flannels sold to Rogers by New Jersey auctioneer Rob Lifson. A report tonight from Arkansas also reports that some items have already been returned to Rogers.
The group of baseball jerseys seized in the raid were once part of the collection of hobby fraudster and Lifson associate Barry Halper and were items that authenticators rejected at the time Lifson sold Halper’s collection at Sotheby’s in 1999. Included were several bogus jerseys that Halper held out to the public as genuine including jerseys he falsely claimed were worn by Lou Gehrig at Columbia University and Hartford.
A source told us that employees of Rogers’ business indicated the search was “professional and civil” and that the agents were “very accommodating.” Another source who witnessed the search said the visit had “absolutely nothing to do with the Rogers Photo Archive business” and only dealt with memorabilia collected by Mr. Rogers. News outlets in Arkansas reported that the FBI took possession of at least ten boxes of materials and Hauls of Shame has since learned that inside some of those boxes were items attributed to baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick. Rogers also purchased that material from Lifson in 2009 as part of a $550,000 court-ordered and forced sale of property that once belonged to this writer. It is not known what specific Chadwick-related materials were taken by the FBI but Rogers’ original purchase included assorted types of ephemera, documents and scrapbooks. Rogers declined to comment on the FBI searches of his home and business.
“…that collection of material was sold by the same auction house for over $500,000, which paid down the judgment considerably. It should also be noted that the same auction house made claims challenging the authenticity of items in that collection. Despite these claims, Rob Lifson sold the entire group of material to a collector who states that Lifson positively promoted the items and touted them as historically significant. When asked by the buyer if there were any items he could point to that were deemed inauthentic, Lifson told him he was not aware of any. The auction house also charged the buyer a premium of nearly $100,000 as a sellers fee…”
In addition to the material Rogers purchased from REA, the FBI also took custody of a Grey Flannel-authenticated Jackie Robinson warm-up jacket and a PSA-slabbed Babe Ruth cut signature that were recently sold to Rogers by David Kohler of SCP Auctions. One of Rogers’ employees said the collector purchased the jacket for $21,000 and the Ruth autograph for over $8,000. Rounding out the items taken by agents were blank Dale Murphy baseball bats and a signed Derek Jeter jersey from Steiner Sports among other items. Sources indicate that the other bogus jerseys Rogers purchased from Lifson and Sharon Halper (widow of Barry Halper and current owner/partner of the New York Yankees) included fakes attributed to George Wright, “Iron Man” McGinnity and many other Hall of Famers. Reports from the scene confirmed that the FBI had not removed any of the 200 million photographs found in the Rogers Archive. An auction executive we spoke with also said, “I don’t think (the search) relates to the photos.”
Sources also indicate that when Lifson sold the Halper jerseys to Rogers he stated they did not pass authentication by Grey Flannel in 1999, but that he believed many of them, including a bogus Lou Gehrig jersey, were authentic. Grey Flannel’s Andy Imperato, Richard Russek and Lifson, however, also authenticated and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of other fakes at Sotheby’s in the Halper sale including jerseys attributed to Ed Delahanty, Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, John J. McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Hugh Jennings, Jimmy Collins, Jim Thorpe, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and a host of others. The Halper fakes had bogus provenance stories attached to them that were also fabricated by Barry Halper and similar to other false statements he gave to Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 when he sold them a counterfeit jersey, bat and glove he said once belonged to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
Soon after the FBI search took place collectors with close ties to Lifson and REA gathered at the collector forum Net54 to proceed to attack Rogers who also owns one of the worlds largest photograph collections housed in the Rogers Archive. The forum, which also counts Rogers as a member, is moderated by convicted felon and former drug dealer Leon Luckey, who also co-owns Brockelman & Luckey Auctions. Luckey’s forum served as a platform for collectors to take shots at Rogers and publish false claims made in an attempt to link him to forgeries sold by the notorious Coaches Corner Auctions.
Collector John McDaniel III, of Philadelphia PA., a close associate and loyal customer of auctioneer Rob Lifson, kicked off the slander session by posting a 2009 Sports Collectors Digest article which claimed that Rogers had consigned a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Coaches Corner Auctions, the outfit notorious for selling outlandish fakes and frauds at discounted prices. After posting the 2009 SCD page McDaniel presented Rogers as a Coaches Corner consignor and wrote, “Hmmm…Coaches Corner….memorabilia….connected to a person known and accused for bogus memorabilia.”
Net54 moderator Dan Bretta then chimed in and added, “There’s only one reason someone consigns something to CC…they know it’s a fake” and also stated, “(I) really had no idea that John Rogers was mixed up with CC (Coaches Corner).”
The comments posted by McDaniel and Bretta were then met by another written by attorney Adam Warshaw suggesting that Rogers was not only a Coaches Corner consignor but compared him to admitted criminal Bill Mastro and accused him of actual criminal activity as he wrote, “Maybe he (Rogers) is the criminal mastermind behind everything. Mastro shmastro, it was Mr Rogers’ neighborhood.”
Jay Miller, a prominent collector and co-author of The Photographic Baseball Cards Of Goodwin & Co., contributed his own post saying the accusations that Rogers is a supplier to Coaches Corner were “Hilarious.” But McDaniel, Bretta, Warshaw and others failed to reveal the shortcomings of the SCD article and the veracity of the accusations they leveled in the public forum. As confirmed by Net54 member Shelly Jaffe, the Coaches Corner LOA was a fake too. Rogers never consigned material to Coaches Corner Auctions and was, in fact, a victim of fraud at the hands of either an unknown third party or the auction house itself. The SCD article was patently false and the ball was never owned by Rogers who never did business with the notorious auction house.
Jaffe was the only Net54 member to point out that the Coaches Corner LOA’s were forgeries and that Rogers had nothing to do with them. ”He (Rogers) received an email from me asking if that piece of garbage was his. He emailed CC and they took it down. He said someone used his cert. It was so bad I had to think he really had nothing to do with it.” In addition, one Net54 member who requested to remain anonymous told Hauls of Shame, “These guys are jealous of Rogers and Rogers has ruffled a lot of feathers over the years. We all know those Coaches Corner LOAs are fakes just like the memorabilia in their auctions. But that didn’t stop them from throwing him under the bus with false accusations.” In regard s to the Net54 free for all Jaffe added, “Once the chumming begins you have no idea how many sharks are on here.” Rogers declined comment for this article when we contacted him last Friday.
The common thread linking the individuals who are slandering Rogers appears to be Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions. John McDaniel III is a Lifson fan-boy and purchased over $165,000 worth of material in REA’s last sale and also consigned over $70,000 in baseball cards. McDaniel is also one of the most shameless apologists in his defense of Lifson’s deceased associate, Barry Halper. In a recent post McDaniel alluded to his support of Halper characterizing Hauls of Shame’s reporting as, “Dragging dead people like Halper thru the mud for their fake items.” In the past McDaniel has taken his defense of Halper even further stating, “Did Halper have stuff that was questionable, sadly, no doubt. I also think many of us would have had bad items had we built and acquired a collection of that size. In fact, Halper would have been and was a big target for the unsavory of the world to work their trade.”
One long-time hobby veteran we spoke with said this of McDaniel, “His head is so far up Rob Lifson’s you-know-what, its ridiculous. Now that’s the bromance.”
Like McDaniel, Robert W. Fraser is another close Lifson confidant who has also used Lifson’s lawyer’s services at his behest while Dan Bretta is a Net54 moderator who is aware of several cease and desist letters sent by Lifson’s attorney, Barry Kozyra, threatening legal action if members make negative comments about his client who is also well-known in the hobby as an admitted thief of rare baseball artifacts.
The false accusations made by McDaniel and Bretta opened the door for Fraser, a convicted felon from Westwood, New Jersey, to post additional statements to slander Rogers. Fraser posted another bogus item sold by Coaches Corner that was described as coming with a letter of authenticity written by Rogers. The baseball bat, alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth to actor Gary Cooper was a fake and was never consigned or owned by Rogers. The letter with the bat was also a fraud and it appears that Rogers was a victim of fraud and not a perpetrator.
The statements directed at Rogers in this instance were made by Robert Fraser who in 2005 was criminally convicted of insurance fraud, multiple violations of the fraud act and perjury. Fraser said Rogers provided an LOA for a bogus item and wrote, “Coach’s Corner (is) praising John Rogers for a letter he wrote about a signed Babe Ruth bat they were selling.” Fraser noted how Coaches Corner described the bat signed to Gary Cooper as, “A one of a kind (that) also has a letter from famous John Rogers of Arkansas.” Fraser then referred again to Rogers writing, “Famous for what? Yeah right give me a break!”
Further proof that Net54 members falsely tied Rogers to Coaches Corner comes from member Christopher Williams’ own Autograph Magazine article published on July 27, 2012. Willliams, who is considered the resident expert on the criminal enterprise of Coaches Corner Auctions, identified the same forged Babe Ruth bat to Cooper and another Net54 member named James Wymer commented, “I wonder if the John Rogers letter sports a nifty forgery of his signature.”
When we asked Jay Miller what he found “hilarious” about the accusations that Rogers was supplying Coaches Corner he declined comment. Sources indicate that McDaniel, Bretta, Fraser and others knew full well that the Rogers LOA’s were forgeries, yet chose to post the accusations anyway. Fraser, who had his real estate licence revoked because of his criminal record, now works for Terrie O’Connor Realty in Saddle River, NJ, and has a history of committing perjury and making false accusations. Fraser has made several public statements that show he has lied to Federal agents and fabricated several stories making false and unfounded allegations about this writer and others. By lying to Federal agents, Fraser has opened himself up to criminal prosecution as well as civil litigation and penalties. Fraser’s wild accusations have been so outlandish and bizarre that several auction executives who have spoken with him have questioned seriously if he is mentally ill. His friend Rob Lifson echoed this sentiment a few years back when Fraser received a cease and desist letter from John Rogers after harassing him. Responding to reports of Fraser’s strange behavior, Lifson wrote to Rogers via email, “Fraser is obsessed with Peter Nash.”
It’s ironic that the FBI seized materials in Rogers’ collection related to Henry Chadwick and that Rogers is being attacked on the collector forum Net54. After Rogers paid Rob Lifson close to $600,000 in 2009 for a large groups of items, including the same Chadwick materials, he posted a rare 1860’s tintype photograph of Chadwick on Net54 to see if any members could identify the other men in the image with Chadwick. But to Rogers’ surprise several members responded to his post stating that they believed the photo did not depict Chadwick and was a fraud, despite the fact that the tintype originated from Henry Chadwick’s great-granddaughter, Fran Henry, who identified her own grandmother’s identification of Chadwick in pencil on the image and claimed it was an image of Chadwick. It is likely that same tintype photo is included in the group of items taken from Roger’s home or office by the FBI.
Net54 members had strong opinions about the image. SABR’s photographic committee chairman Mark Fimoff claimed the man did not resemble Chadwick after comparing the noses to other photos saying, “There is no perceivable resemblance between these two noses.” Fimoff also dismissed the tintype because the name “H. Chadwick” was written in pencil on the image. Fimoff said, “I would never write my grandfather’s name on a vintage family photo since we all know who he is.”
Dealer Barry Sloate dismissed it as well saying, “This kind of spurious photo identification is not enough for me. My opinion is it is not Henry Chadwick.”
Collector Corey R. Shanus said, “I think there is little chance it is Chadwick” and 19th century photo collector Jimmy Leiderman agreed with Shanus adding, “I have to agree with Corey that the writing is simply a novice job to deceive.”
Interestingly enough, two years after the Chadwick image was challenged on Net54 the same Mark Fimoff helped expose a 19th century daguerreotype owned by Shanus as a notable fraud. The image fooled the hobby and historians alike but visual evidence presented in a SABR newsletter showed that the men pictured in the image were not Alexander Joy Cartwright and his teammates from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. Shanus, who originally acquired the image from the Cartwright family in Hawaii, had held the image out as an authentic example depicting Cartwright and placed the image in Ken Burns‘ PBS film, BASEBALL, scores of baseball books and even an exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite all of the visual evidence showing that his image does not depict Cartwright, Shanus did not admit that his prized dag, once highlighted by Smithsonian, is a fraud.
Shanus’ collection is also notorious for including artifacts that were owned by Henry Chadwick and later stolen from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection. Shanus showed off two Knickerbocker Base Ball Club documents stolen from Chadwick’s collection in the 2005 coffee-table book Smithsonian Baseball. Those documents were bequeathed to the NYPL in 1921 by the widow of A. G. Spalding and are also the subject of an on-going FBI investigation. So far, there have been no reports of Shanus’ home in Purchase, NY, being raided by FBI agents as part of the same Federal investigation.
Shanus has also filed suit against the only person ever apprehended stealing rare artifacts from the NYPL, Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. Shanus filed a complaint against Lifson in 2011 alleging that Lifson and his auction house sold him counterfeit items including an 1853 Knickerbocker trophy ball (alleged to have been presented to Henry Chadwick) and an 1861 trophy ball from a match between Brooklyn and New York “all-stars.” (This writer purchased that same 1861 ball at Sotheby’s Halper sale in 1999 for over $60,000. Shanus notes in his complaint that these items were once owned by this writer.) Shanus also accuses REA of defrauding him and inflating memorabilia prices by falsely reporting record sales of rare baseball artifacts. The complaint does not charge Lifson with selling Shanus any items that were stolen from the NYPL’s famous Spalding Collection. Sources also indicate that Shanus claims to have unearthed evidence in discovery suggesting that Lifson has been involved in a shill-bidding scheme in his own auctions with a relative.
Lifson and REA, through their attorney, Barry Kozyra, denied the allegations and called the Shanus lawsuit frivolous and stated, “The Complaint contains numerous misstatements of fact and inaccuracies as Mr. Shanus must know as well as false suppositions.” Lifson’s attorney added, “The Complaint is frivolous as a matter of law and REA and Mr. Lifson will seek full redress through the courts for damages, attorney fees and costs from Mr. Shanus and anyone acting in concert with him or on his behalf.”
Despite Lifson’s lawyers claims that the charges against his client have no merit, Lifson has had a well-documented history of selling bogus and fraudulent materials. In the 1999 Halper sale Lifson catalogued and sold fake uniforms, misrepresented game-used equipment, forged Babe Ruth autographs and even a phony 1846 Knickerbocker baseball he claimed was genuine.
Lifson originally filed a motion to dismiss the Shanus complaint claiming that the statute of limitations for the action had expired, but U. S. District Court Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh denied the motion and a counterclaim filed by Lifson against Shanus was also thrown out of court. The case is on-going and sources indicate that attorneys for Lifson and Shanus have deposed and served subpoenas on many hobby executives in the course of the litigation. A source confirms that Lifson’s lawyer, Barry Kozyra, has been trying to serve Hunt Auctions President David Hunt but has claimed he believes Hunt “may be purposely avoiding service.”
In relation to the FBI search of Rogers’ home and business, one hobby executive we spoke with said, “Why does Rob (Lifson) get a pass?” Another told us, “When is the FBI raid of Lifson’s home and office in Watchung scheduled?”
(Editors Note: This writer has been involved in lawsuits with Robert W. Fraser, Robert Lifson and REA. This writer has also had prior business relationships with Fraser, Lifson, REA and John Rogers.)
(Correction: In the original version of this article we said that SABR’s Mark Fimoff compared “noses and ears” on a tintype and a photo of Henry Chadwick. That was incorrect. Fimoff only compared noses.)