Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

April 24, 2016

As Bill Mastro sits in a Federal jail cell, the now infamous Honus Wagner card that played a part in putting him there is on display in all its trimmed and fraudulently graded glory at the Phoenix Art Museum. The card is on loan courtesy of MLB owner, Ken Kendrick, the Chairman of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who purchased the card for $2.8 million several years ago despite the fact that many in the hobby had stated publicly their belief that Mastro had deceptively trimmed the card to enhance its condition and value in the 1980s.  Mastro confessed to the crime that others had accused him of in recent times after the government caught him admitting to master-minding the trim-job on wire taps made possible by his longtime friend and business associate Dan Knoll.

Despite the fact that Mastro’s card doctoring has exposed the memorabilia industry as a mine field of fraud and deception, there is no reference to these realities visible to those who bought a ticket for the “The Ultimate Collection” exhibition of Kendrick’s PSA-graded baseball cards at the Phoenix Art Museum. The card has been on display since March 9th and ends its public display today. According to the museum’s Communications Director, Nikki DeLeone, there is no disclaimer identifying the Wagner card’s sordid past and its fraudulent status as a mini-crime scene. In fact, the museum exhibition signage visible to patrons still refers to the card as a legitimate PSA graded “NM-MT 8.”

The Phoenix Art Museum's display of Kendrick's fraudulent & trimmed Wagner (left) presents it to the public as a legitimate "PSA NM-MT 8" with no mention of its sordid past.

That’s because Collectors Universe (CLCT), the public company that is accused of fraudulently grading the card in the 1990s, hasn’t done anything to rectify its fatally flawed authentication of the card that the company built its reputation upon and falsely advertised for decades as the hobby’s most pristine and famous baseball card.

MLB owner Ken Kendrick has no incentive to point out PSA’s on-going perpetration of the Wagner fraud since he’s considered the PSA-poster boy for its grading services which constitute a near monopoly in the industry.  According to a recent Collectors Universe annual shareholders report, the company graded over 1.2 million baseball cards in 2014.  Kendrick boasts of having the highest graded PSA-graded cards in existence, including his Wagner and has bought into PSA’s marketing model of collecting the highest graded cards for premium prices.  In PSA’s 2011 Sports Market Report Kendrick revealed how he has fallen victim to PSA’s marketing schemes as he stated:

I’m proud to have this high-caliber collection. I’m a competitive guy. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I wasn’t a competitive person, so I have been competitive with other collectors to make my collection the best of its type. Don’t get me wrong, there are other folks out there who have extraordinary collections. But, if you look at the top 20 most desirable cards, and look at the grading of my top 20 cards, I can say that this collection is the best one that exists in the world.”

Kendrick also made a similar statement in PSA President Joe Orlando’s book, Top 200 Sportscards, stating that he owns every one of the top ten cards in the highest grades known to exist. Kendrick’s statement, however, is patently false, as collectors believe his fraudulently graded T-206 Wagner should be re-holdered and graded “Altered and Authentic.”  This designation, however, would likely cause the now infamous Wagner card to plummet in value as Kendrick finds himself at the end of a PSA-Mastro orchestrated Ponzi-scheme.

Sales of the fraudulent Wagner have been orchestrated with the involvement of Bill Mastro, Rob Lifson, David Kohler and J.P Cohen. Sources say all parties committed fraud when they sold the trimmed card as a "PSA NM-MT 8."

Previously, this scheme worked perfectly because Mastro and his ex-partner Rob Lifson were involved in every transaction from 1991 to 2000 and since that time PSA has been involved in every other sale with the involvement of PSA supporters David Kohler of SCP Auctions and J. P. Cohen of Memory Lane. One hobby source told us that in working together all of the parties were able to orchestrate sales of the card from collector to collector with every one of them making a profit on the sales which either Mastro or PSA operatives played a part in the transaction.  The source added, “They were all just waiting for a sucker like Kendrick to come along and fleece him. They always wanted big bucks guys to come in who would bury the card. Looks like Kendrick was a dream come true for them.”

Supporting this claim is the fact that Brian Seigel bought the card from Mastro and Lifson and later stated in PSA advertisements that he would never have bought the card “without PSAs seal of approval.” Seigel allegedly kept the card in PSAs possession during his ownership which ended when Kohler orchestrated a private sale to ex-MLB knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. According to a report published by the Associated Press, Kohler and SCP also claimed they had purchased a small interest in the card along with Candiotti. A source tells Hauls of Shame, however, that Candiotti had already sold his PSA-graded card collection to Ken Kendrick and was possibly a front for the PSA-backed Kohler and SCP. Candiotti now works for Kendrick as a color-commentator on Diamondbacks telecasts.

After that $2.35 million transaction, the card was purchased by Kendrick with Kohler and Cohen involved in the sale according to a  PSA profile of Kendrick which states: “Having been offered the opportunity to acquire the Wagner card through the combined efforts of David Kohler at SCP and J. P. Cohen at Memory Lane, Ken said that when he became the official owner of the most revered card in the hobby, he simply felt that it completed his elite grouping.”

The extent of Kendrick’s relationship with the convicted felon and auctioneer J. P. Cohen is unclear but, like Kohler, Cohen has been a long-time customer and supporter of PSA’s grading services.  Sources also indicate that Kohler has told SCP consignors that he is close with PSA management and that he can get cards graded at higher levels than his competitors. That being said, PSA also appears to have gone out of its way to avoid correcting its flawed grading of the card since PSA operatives have liability and prior ownership interests in the card.  As a result of PSA’s inaction, Kendrick is claiming his card hasn’t lost any value.

Kendrick recently said as much to an Arizona Republic writer who reported: “The Wagner card, incidentally, was shaved along its borders by an auction-house owner to improve its appearance. When artwork or valuable collectibles are altered, their values tend to drop, but Kendrick said he doesn’t think his card’s worth was diminished.”  That’s easy for Kendrick to say when his card is still displayed in its “PSA NM-MT 8″ holder. Kendrick has also vowed to never sell the card which will be passed along to his kids.

Some have speculated that PSA and Kendrick have worked out a deal to keep the card in the “NM-MT 8″ holder because under the Collectors Universe guarantee, the company would have to reimburse Kendrick for a grading that was flawed. This scenario was publicly aired in 2014 by Collectors Universe coin grader and former Collectors Universe stockholder, Steve Cyrkin, who posted a comment on his Autograph Magazine Live website stating, “Not only was the (Honus Wagner) card graded by PSA way back in 1991, PSA offered to buy it back from the current owner (Ken Kendrick) for what he paid for it, $2.8 million.”

Collectors Universe coin grader Steve Cyrkin made public statements claiming that PSA offered to buy back the trimmed Wagner from Ken Kendrick.

Posting his comments after Bill Mastro’s trimming admission was revealed by the Government, Cyrkin wrote, “PSA guarantees the authenticity of sports cards, so I can’t understand why would management knowingly create a huge liability. It (the Wagner card) was worth almost half a million dollars when they graded it.”

Despite Cyrkin’s statements, Bill Hughes, the PSA employee who originally graded the card has already admitted that he knew the Wagner card had been trimmed by Mastro. In response, Collectors Universe founder David Hall publicly stated that Hughes was lying but several hobby insiders knew for sure it was trimmed because Mastro actually told them he had altered it. Hall also called Bill Mastro a liar but a 2006 Mastro video recently posted on YouTube shows PSA President Joe Orlando singing the praises of Mastro and comparing PSA to his company. While that same auction house was found to have been engaging in rampant shill-bidding and assorted other fraudulent activities Orlando says, “When you go through all the elements of running an auction house, really I think just one word—quality—expresses how I would describe Mastro Auctions.”

Josh Evans, founder of Lelands auction house in New York City, says he knew first-hand about the trimmed Wagner card.  According to Evans, Mastro told him directly that he’d trimmed the card after he purchased it with his ex-partner Rob Lifson in Bob Sevchuk’s card shop in 1985.  In a prior interview Evans recalled, “He (Mastro) told me on several occasions and then he’d say, ‘Now just shut up and stop talking about it’.” Lifson also knew the card was trimmed and committed fraud when he sold the card with Mastro in 2000 to collector Brain Seigel for $1.2 million.  Lifson, however, avoided any penalty for his participation in the fraud when he ratted out Mastro to the Feds for shill-bidding after both men terminated their business partnership over a decade ago.

Hauls of Shame reached out to Ken Kendrick to address Cyrkin’s claims and to ask why he is still publicly exhibiting the tainted card in its fraudulent PSA holder. Arizona Diamondbacks PR director, Josh Rawitch, responded to our inquiry and stated that Kendrick would “respectfully decline comment” on the status of the card’s grade and the alleged offers to buy the card back by PSA.

SCP Auctions did not respond to our inquiries to verify the Associated Press reports stating that SCP had an ownership interest in the Wagner card with Tom Candiotti and whether they retained ownership upon the sale to Kendrick.  SCP’s Dan Imler did, however, respond to our unrelated inquiry regarding their current offering of a Harry Wright document that was stolen from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection. Imler responded stating, “I never heard back from the FBI agent.  Can you provide some proof that this was stolen from NYPL? We want to do the right thing and help get it back to whom it belongs but I need someone in Law enforcement to give me some information on this matter.”

Speaking of the FBI, sources indicate that in the wake of the Mastro convictions the FBI is still following the exploits of PSA and Collectors Universe regarding card grading and the PSA/DNA autograph authentications. Sources also indicate that the FBI will likely have further interest in video depositions taken of PSA President Joe Orlando and alleged authenticator Steve Grad in the Johnson v. RR Auctions case. Court filings at the Santa Barbara Superior Court indicate that the depositions of the PSA employees may be available to view on the RR Auction Lawsuit website as early as next Friday.  Previously RR Auctions lost a motion for a protective order to take video depositions down from the site. PSA’s attorney (who also represents RR) filed a similar motion to block the videos from being posted. Our readers might recall that attorney, Keith Attlesey, being mentioned in a previous Hauls of Shame report threatening litigation when we reported that PSA was founded on a fraud with the grading of the trimmed Wagner. That lawsuit was never filed since Bill Mastro confirmed that our published statement was true and accurate.


20 Comments »

  1. This is priceless from the Clueless one praising Mastro in that video: “I kind of liken Mastro Auctions to what PSA does in terms of their market leadership and share. I think anytime we do something new as well as Mastro does something new, whether they are making a change to their catalog or the way they present something, like a change to their website technology, I think everyone else follows. Mastro, whether you are talking about their people, the quality of their catalogs, their website—how user friendly it is, the quality of their images,the quality of their descriptions—when you go through all the elements of running an auction house, really I think just one word—quality—expresses how I would describe Mastro Auctions.”

    Comment by Clueless Joe — April 24, 2016 @ 2:50 am

  2. Ken Kendrick’s T206 Wagner highlights the huge problem plaguing the entire card hobby, altered cards in graded holders and the crackpot collectors that care more about the grade on flip than the integrity of the card. This behavior staggering considering the amount of money top-tier cards are selling for.

    What message does this send to EVERYONE in the hobby when Ken Kendrick won’t take PSA to task over relabelling this card Altered Authentic. The card’s not changing, just the holder. He could have it re-evaluated without pursuing a guarantee also if he wanted to keep it. He could have it cracked, turn in the flip and have it graded by SGC for example. His message to collectors is he values the flip more than owning an altered card, very sad.

    Comment by Jim — April 24, 2016 @ 2:50 am

  3. I have been a coin collector for 12 years and I’m getting out of the hobby. I’ve had enough. This has been a problem for many years with Coins and Card. It’s very well know among the dealers. Coins and cards that are way over graded. Coins that have been cleaned, artificially toned end up in very high graded slabs just waiting for the right sucker to buy it. Good luck trying to sell it back. You will loose a huge amount of money because all the dealers will always say ” this coin has been cleaned ” or it’s over graded. It is getting more blatant and in your face. Dealers talking about finding a “green ” buyer openly at shows. It has ruined the hobby I loved for years. I will put my proceededs from my coins into my game worn jersey collection( another hobby were you have to be careful)
    Thank you for this web site and for the large amount of time you guys spend doing homework. You have thought me so much.

    Comment by Andrew — April 24, 2016 @ 4:59 am

  4. Its sad that a guy like Kendrick is so obsessed with condition and having the best collection that he’s totally sacrificed his integrity.

    Comment by Paul — April 24, 2016 @ 5:48 am

  5. Again, nothing new here. PSA will never go away. With Ken Kendrick not moving forward and demanding that PSA correct their wrongs the scam will continue on that poor card for decades to come. PSA, Mastro Auctions amongst others have ruined this card hobby of ours forever…..

    Comment by Thomas Parker — April 24, 2016 @ 7:52 am

  6. Since the card was trimmed, does anyone know its original state? If it passed sizing requirements, was it larger than normal? Was it cut from a strip?

    Comment by John — April 24, 2016 @ 9:04 am

  7. For those of us who have been collectors for their lifetime, 60 years to-date in my case, there are many who cannot afford to spend money to have their best items graded and with thousands of mint out of the box cards I, personally, have never felt the need for any of this if you are an ethical / proper person when dealing with others …

    Unfortunately, like many businesses, the wrong people have risen to the top in swindling so many out of good money with wrongly and expensively graded items …

    This Kendrick fool seems like someone who really needs to be told as he is not and has not helped things … Not at all …

    Therefore, if PSA graded more than 1.2 items in 2014 then just how many items in total were graded by all the other outfits … ???

    This is an absolutely terrible situation …

    Lastly, has anyone noticed and / or commented out loud about how eTOPPS died a horrible death where all those far too many special cards are pretty much worthless … ???

    As always, those of us with a working brain thank you very much for all you have done / are doing to inform the masses as to what has gone wrong with collecting …

    Hopefully, many are reading and trying to make a difference.

    SUPREMOCOLLECTOR

    Comment by CLAY MARSTON — April 24, 2016 @ 9:51 am

  8. Please do an article on Goldin auctions and net54 and how he is sending people C&D letters for people talking about his Ruth glove and stuff.

    Comment by james — April 24, 2016 @ 11:24 am

  9. You’d think the Wilpons would have ended up with this trimmed Wagner.

    Comment by Mr Met — April 24, 2016 @ 2:50 pm

  10. Yet I find it ironic that Psa will send back cards as trimmed, altered that I have personally seen come out of a pack but were miscut, etc. at the factory.
    Amazing!

    Comment by Ken — April 24, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

  11. Anybody in the hobby since the mid/late 1980’s,knows the story about the Wagner card. I personally was at a dinner in 1994 with Bill Mastro, his friend/lawyer, Herman Kauffman, and Art Jaffe in NYC. (Homestead) Mastro openly bragged about it, also claiming many other cards were trimmed from tobacco card sheets. It was the “wild west” back then, and people/friends/auction houses protected each other to make money…and to play “big-shots” They were dripping in arrogance(who was going to stop them?)… The beast feed itself as prices were manipulated upwards as new people/marks came into the “hobby” with more cash then knowledge. They simply couldn’t control themselves. This also applied to uniforms, bats, etc also.
    Josh Evans is right, but what did he try to do…nothing. he ha company and it needed to make money. They all drive on the guardrail on the highway of integrity.

    Comment by Oliver Von Pulsner — April 24, 2016 @ 8:36 pm

  12. Watch for the RR case to be eye opening, especially that guy Epperson.

    Comment by Mastronaut — April 26, 2016 @ 9:27 pm

  13. Rob Lifson has been involved with Mastro for decades- Why in the world he is not prosecuted is beyond belief- He must of stole money millions from collectors throught the years- no wonder why he is retiring? I would caution anyone working for that firm

    Comment by vic franklin — April 27, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

  14. In mob/gangster convictions there are many that don’t get touched or get light sentances if they helped to bring down the mass, ask Frank Lucas. Operation Bullpen Part Two will be bigger, lots of names. Lifson might want to move to Costa Rica and wait out the big waves of Mastronauts out there taken down soon.

    Comment by Mastronaut — April 30, 2016 @ 12:52 am

  15. I still receive these updates as a reminder why I had to finally get out of the hobby that was a part of my childhood up into my 40′S. Too much greed ripping people off and on and on. I wish all of you luck in your collecting. I see many of my friends doing like I did sell now while you can either make a little break even or take only a small loss. People need to wake up this is the beginning. Just wait and see …

    Comment by Frank — April 30, 2016 @ 7:12 pm

  16. How come Coach corner of PA noting is being done investigating them?

    Comment by gary — May 4, 2016 @ 3:41 am

  17. SCD knew Coach was a crook selling signed Beatles balls for $321 and numerous other laffers for years. They’ll be Mastro’d….the volume was massive and still is massive.

    Comment by Mastronaut — May 9, 2016 @ 4:15 am

  18. You guys’ just don’t get it…everyone (dealers, “experts”, auction houses) in this “hobby” knows all this BS is happening, its just nobody cares. They are making money…and constantly cultivating new blood. Until the “money” leaves, things will continue. Move on, build for your retirement with good investments in stocks.

    Comment by Oliver Von Pulsner — May 9, 2016 @ 11:57 pm

  19. eBay is buried in fake autographs. Is every Mantle and DiMaggio out of Florida fake? All these NYC area transplants teach their sons to keep them coming. Put your cheese into silver and gold. Operation Bullpen Part Two will be a reality.

    Comment by Mastronaut — May 13, 2016 @ 8:45 pm

  20. These guys are worst than the financial industry as far as fraud.

    I have a feeling PSA can’t hide in the shadows forever.

    Comment by Scott — May 29, 2016 @ 12:50 am

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