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.”
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.
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.”
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.