By Peter J. Nash
August 22, 2014
(Scroll to bottom for Update)
The release of the witness list for the upcoming trial of former Mastro Auctions employee, William Boehm, confirmed what Hauls of Shame has been reporting for the past few years —that REA auction president, Rob Lifson, was one of the government’s key witnesses in the prosecution of its case against Bill Mastro. The appearance of Lifson’s name on the list also confirms that he cooperated with the Feds and informed on Mastro after shill-bidding schemes were uncovered during an investigation of Ohio political fundraiser Tom Noe in 2006. Lifson may be called to testify against Mastro’s former IT director but he may also be a less than stellar witness with his own checkered past and his having presided over the fraud committed at the auction house when he was still a Director of the company with Mastro.
By the time the evidence of the auction house shill-bidding was uncovered in the 2006 “Coin-Gate” investigation, Lifson had already left MastroNet.com and proceeded to rat out Mastro by turning over additional evidence that further implicated his old friend with the Feds. Providing additional motivation for Lifson to turn on Mastro was the fact the former hobby heavyweight had cashed out and sold Mastro Auctions to “Flip” Filipowski for close to $5 million after buying out Lifson for what one source says was just a “few hundred thousand dollars.”
Accusations of shill-bidding at MastroNet had been made against both Mastro and Lifson as early as April of 2002 and at that time Lifson denied the charges to this writer calling the allegations “stupid” and added that he and Mastro ran “the cleanest auction on the face of the earth.” But as Mastro’s recent plea agreement describes in great detail, the auction house operated by Mastro, Lifson and Doug Allen was already shill-bidding customers like Tom Noe in its Spring 2002 Americana auction. Noe had purchased over $1 million in memorabilia from MastroNet and the plea agreement also states that in the Spring of 2002 the auction house “used a shill account belonging to a friend of an auction house employee to drive up individual (Tom Noe’s) ceiling bids.”
Now, nearly twelve years after their company’s shill-bidding schemes were in full effect, the two former friends and hobby lifers are set to appear with their former employee, Brian Marren, to help the US Attorneys convict ex-Mastro IT director William Boehm who is alleged to have lied to FBI agents about his role in the destruction of auction bidding records. The Mastro-Lifson reunion is an unlikely pairing to say the least as Mastro’s last public statement regarding Lifson appeared in Dave Jamieson’s 2010 book Mint Condition where he said, “Lifson and I were best friends at one point and we hate each other now.” Lifson, on the other hand, has been gloating and reveling in his former partner’s demise and sending out emails to associates with the plea agreements from the Mastro case.
Boehm’s attorneys will likely challenge the credibility of Mastro, Marren and other Mastro employees who cut plea deals or avoided prosecution by turning on others, including Boehm. Mastro is cooperating in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence while Marren was given immunity in the case for his full cooperation with the government. That being said, how credible will Lifson’s testimony be in the government’s case based upon his own past statements defending Mastro against allegations of criminal activity that were made as early as 2002 when both men were still running MastroNet.com?
The MastroNet.com roster c.2002: (Top row l. to r.) Bill Mastro, Rob Lifson, Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos & Brian Marren; (2nd Row l. to r.) Dan Knoll, Dave Bushing, Steve Grad, Louis Bollman & Ron Oser; (Third row l. to r.) Simeon Lipman, Kevin Struss, Don Flanagan, Mike Gutierrez and Laura Harden; (Bottom Row l. to r.) Brian Bigelow, Steve Penhacker & Josh Petrie.
It was in late 2002 that Lifson told this writer that the claims of fraud, shill-bidding and sales of stolen property at MastroNet were “ridiculous” and that people accusing the auction house of criminal acts were “out of their mind” and “grasp(ing) onto this stupid idea that we’re not an auction house (MastroNet), we’re criminals and that we cheat people and its stupid.” When informed that a collector was planning on filing suit against the company owned by him and Mastro, Lifson went so far as to deny any allegations and say, “I can assure you that we run the cleanest auction on the face of the earth, nobody does what we do, you know, and I don’t even know why he’s got this thing with Bill (Mastro), but you know I’m sitting here thinking, you know what, I might have more fun if he did sue us.” Based upon the Motion the government filed to admit evidence and co-conspirator statements, it appears that Lifson was lying and that he likely had knowledge of the shill-bidding schemes including fictitious bidders, bogus auction results and “dead paddles” from inactive accounts.
Lifson has denied the claims made by Hauls of Shame in reports identifying him as an informant in the Mastro case. In 2013, he told blogger Murray Chass, “I was a minority owner and employee of MastroNet from 2000 to 2002. He (Hauls of Shame) knows nothing of me being a ‘government informant.’ Virtually all if not all of their crimes in the indictment occurred long after I left MastroNet so that speaks for itself.” The Mastro plea agreements, however, clearly show that Lifson was running the company with Mastro while the significant shill-bidding of Tom Noe was in full swing. In addition, Lifson’s inclusion on the witness list speaks for itself in relation to Lifson’s role as an actual informant.
As late as April of 2002, when Lifson was still in the Mastro fold as a company director, he fully supported all of the Mastro employees who have already plead guilty in the current case saying, “We have thirty-five people who work for our company (MastroNet) and they’re all honest and they are all working to have a great auction and auction company.” All of the statements made supporting Mastro and denying any criminal activity at the company were made to this writer and taped as part of an early investigation into MastroNet business practices in 2002. The actual audio of Lifson’s statements can be heard by clicking on this link: Lifson Nash audio April 2002.
In addition, how credible will Lifson appear to a jury if they hear how blatantly he has lied about his involvement in regard to the “PSA-8″ T-206 Honus Wagner card that Mastro admitted to trimming in his plea agreement. The government charged that Mastro had promoted the Wagner card as unaltered and pristine in advertisements heralding the auction company as the leader in the sports collectibles industry and Lifson is just as guilty of that same charge considering he not only fraudulently promoted the card he knew was trimmed but he also sold the card in a 2000 MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions sale. Lifson also failed to disclose that he had been the owner of the card before it sold to collector Brian Seigel for over $1.2 million. Knowing that his partner had altered the Wagner card to enhance its value, Lifson even told the Wall Street Journal in 1996 that the trimmed Wagner was, “the Mona Lisa of the field.”
Rob Lifson (left) outbid Bill Mastro (center) at Christie's and took home the Wagner card for $651,500. Lifson said he was only bidding for Mike Gidwitz, but a source says they were 50/50 partners.
One prominent collector whose identity we have kept anonymous in prior reports and call “Hobby-Deep-Throat” told this writer on the night of the 2000 MastroNet sale of the trimmed Wagner that Lifson had approached him to be a minority partner in the purchase of the Wagner card at a Christie’s sale back in 1996. The collector declined the offer but also confirmed that Lifson had told him he knew Mastro had trimmed the Wagner card PSA had graded as an “8.” After his offer was turned down, Lifson went to Chicago area collector Mike Gidwitz to partner with him on the card and Lifson purchased the Wagner at auction for $641,000 on behalf of the duo. Lifson, however, appears to have lied to Sports Collectors Digest and other outlets when he said he was only the agent bidding on the card for Gidwitz, who he claimed was the actual owner.
Hauls of Shame contacted Gidwitz at his home in Chicago to comment on the actual ownership of the now infamous Mastro-Wagner but he declined comment. But a source who claims to have first hand knowledge of the Gidwitz-Lifson relationship, told us that Lifson and his eccentric friend went “50/50″ on the $640,500 purchase of the card in 1996 at Christie’s and that Gidwitz bought Lifson out of the card sometime before it was sold for $1.2 million at MastroNet/REA in 2000.
MastroNet sold a signed Harry Wright cabinet card that was stolen from the NYPL's Spalding Collection. The card was credited to the NYPL in publications and has unique damage on the albumen print. Time Magazine reported the 1979 apprehension of MastroNet director Rob Lifson (inset) who was caught stealing rare CDV's and cabinet cards at the library's 42nd St. branch.
Lifson’s own past criminal history as an institutional thief could also cloud his testimony in Federal Court. Lifson was caught stealing rare CDV’s and cabinet cards at the New York Public Library while he was a student at the Wharton School of Business at UPenn in 1979. Lifson confessed to this writer that he was caught “palming” a rare CDV at the NYPL but claimed that his theft was a one-time occurrence. Lifson contradicted that story when he told Sports Illustrated that he had stolen more than one item and previously lied to the New York Daily News stating he never stole anything from the institution. Most all of the stolen NYPL artifacts ended up in the collection of Lifson’s top customer, Barry Halper, who is said to have orchestrated the NYPL thefts according to a high-placed hobby and baseball source.
Complicating Lifson’s testimony even more is the fact that items he is believed to have stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Baseball Collection were actually sold by MastroNet while Lifson and Mastro were directors of the company and had full knowledge that they were selling stolen materials. Some of the items appearing in the MastroNet auction that have been identified as NYPL property include an autographed 1874 Warren cabinet card of Harry Wright, three autographed 1872 CDV’s of George Wright, Ross Barnes and Cal McVey, an 1875 CDV of the Hartford Dark Blues featuring Candy Cummings and an 1887 cabinet card of the Buffalo Bisons featuring Frank Grant among other items. All of these unique artifacts appear on the original 1922 Spalding inventory and the subsequent 1987 “Missing List” prepared by the library after conducting an updated inventory of the collection and most of the items sold by Lifson and Mastro bear unique inscriptions documented on the original NYPL inventory from 1922.
MastroNet sold several items stolen from the NYPL's Spalding Collection including CDV's of George Wright, Ross Barnes and Cal McVey. The CDV's are documented on the 1922 NYPL inventory (right) and were once owned by Barry Halper before collector Jim Montgomery consigned them to MastroNet in 2000.
MastroNet even sold items stolen from the Boston Public Library’s famous M. T. McGreevey Collection that are suspected to have been stolen by Lifson in conjunction with a similar scheme also orchestrated by deceased New York Yankees general partner Barry Halper. One smoking gun BPL item sold by Mastro and Lifson was an 1882 cabinet photograph of the Boston BBC which had its library ownership stamp defaced to conceal its provenance. Lifson and Halper sold over a dozen other rare photographs stolen from the BPL’s McGreevy Collection at Sotheby’s in 1999 and Lifson recieved several other stolen BPL items consigned for his REA auction from Halper’s widow after his death in 2005. When Lifson and Mastro were accused of selling items stolen from the NYPL in 2002 Lifson responded stating sarcastically,“That’s what we do, we sell stolen property because we like to. We sell stolen property because that’s what we do, ya know. No one wants to give us the un-stolen property we have to sell the stolen property. You know, it’s just stupid.”
When Lifson first told FBI agents about the misdeeds committed at MastroNet and Mastro Auctions they were totally unaware of Lifson’s apprehension for stealing at the NYPL and his well documented sales of stolen items from the NYPL and BPL. In fact, Lifson made the FBI aware of several stolen items and assisted with the recovery efforts of at least one cabinet photo of Harry Wright which had been offered for sale by dealer Lew Lipset in 2005. It wasn’t until July of 2009, when Hunt Auctions and MLB offered a rare cache of documents addressed to Harry Wright that were stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection that the FBI became fully aware of Lifson’s theft from the NYPL and the full scope of the alleged Lifson-Halper involvement in the milion-dollar heist from the library. After the FBI was made aware of Lifson’s history related to the Spalding Collection, his help in recovering the Harry Wright cabinet card was viewed differently as one FBI special agent told this writer, “He (Lifson) was just throwing us a bone” and “trying to look like he was helping.”
Lew Lipset (top right) wrote a letter to Judge Ronald Guzman (bottom) informing him of Bill Mastro's history of altering cards to enhance their value. Lipset and other sources have accused Rob Lifson of engaging in similar fraudulent activity. Mastro and Lifson ran joint ads in "The Trader Speaks" in the early 1980s (top left) stating that the their "condition standards" for cards were "second to none.".
Lastly, Lifson’s credibility is challenged by his own past history as an alleged “card doctor” and accusations by veteran hobbyists that, like Mastro, he regularly trimmed, cut, bleached, colored and took creases out of cards to improve their condition and value. The accusations against Lifson as a card doctor were even alluded to in a letter to Judge Ronald Guzman who is presiding over the Mastro case. The subtle mention of Lifson’s card-altering skills was written by hobby veteran Lew Lipset and published by the Court describing Bill Mastro as “despicable” and recounting a particular instance when Mastro was viewing cards at a dealer table in the 1980’s. Lipset recalled how Mastro told the dealer, “…these look a little short (i.e. trimmed), did you get them from me or Robert (Lifson)?” Lipset added for the Judge, “Bill’s tendency to trim cards was widely known throughout the hobby.” In an interview with Lipset for our upcoming book, The Madoff of Memorabilia, he also stated that Lifson’s trimming of cards was also well known throughout the hobby. Several other sources have recounted disturbing card enhancement activities perpetrated by Mastro and Lifson in hotel rooms they shared at major shows and conventions.
The fact that Lifson is also the most litigious individual in the history of the hobby could also be problematic for prosecutors if the Boehm trial moves forward. By his own admission, Lifson spoke of his proclivity for litigation when he and Mastro were accused of shill bidding and other fraudulent activities back in 2002. In response to the accusations, Lifson told this writer, “I think I mentioned this to you (what) my record is. I’m undefeated. Because as nice a guy as I am, you know, when somebody is attacking me, I am the most incredible animal on the face of the earth, and that’s why I live in a mansion and could retire many, many, many times over and I will win and others will lose when the chips are down, and that’s not going to change. I’m better now than ever and it’s nice to hold a good hand because we (MastroNet) haven’t done anything.”
But the court documents and plea agreements filed in Chicago show that the auction house was committing crimes and Lifson’s claims of an undefeated record in court appear to be limited to his home turf in Somerset County, New Jersey. Lifson and his attorney, Barry Kozyra, have had great success litigating memorabilia cases at the Somerset County Courthouse including one victory against this writer who sued Lifson but ended up signing a stipulation of settlement in favor of Lifson and his auction house for over $760,000. Lifson won another case in 2008 against a consignor from Baltimore, Maryland, named Anthony Raymond who chronicled his legal battle with Lifson at The Rip-Off Report.
Lifson, who hails from the family that co-founded the Dominion Electrical Manufacturing Company, has had the advantage of utilizing a family waffle-iron fortune to back his memorabilia businesses ever since he was a teenager placing ads in publications stating that he had “unlimited capital available for (his) wants.” More recently Lifson has advertised that he has “unmatched financial security, millions in assets, no liabilities (and) millions of dollars available at all times at a moment’s notice for cash advances.” Lifson’s financial wherewithal has enabled him to litigate adversaries into submission in his own backyard of Somerset County but more recently he is facing some much more formidable opposition.
The Lifson family co-founded the Dominion Electrical company and made a fortune selling waffle-irons and toasters. Rob Lifson's grandfather Nathan Lifson (top left), his uncle Burton Lifson (top right) and his father Kalman Lifson made the family fortune providing the foundation for REA's ads claiming access to millions of dollars available for consignments "within minutes."
Lifson is currently facing multiple claims of fraud in a lawsuit filed against him in Federal Court in Newark, New Jersey, by collector and real estate developer Corey R. Shanus of Purchase, New York. Despite claims made by attorney Barry Kozyra that the lawsuit was frivolous, the Court has allowed the case to proceed with Shanus’ claims that Lifson sold him fakes, artificially inflated prices and schemed to defraud him. Lifson’s counterclaim filed against Shanus, however, was dismissed in its entirety. The litigation is on-going. (Some of the items Shanus claims Lifson sold as fakes were once owned by this writer and Barry Halper.) When Lifson served as the auction consultant for the Halper sale at Sotheby’s in 1999, he oversaw and cataloged several million dollars in fraudulent and counterfeit artifacts attributed to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and a host of 19th century Hall of Famers.
An example of just how litigious Lifson can be is found in a 2010 counter suit the auctioneer filed against the State of New Jersey along with third-party complaints he filed against the prosecutor, assistant prosecutor and investigator of Bergen County who had pursued the consigned assets of a Lifson client named William Stratcher. Stratcher made a large consignment to Lifson before being arrested for the illegal distribution of prescription drugs and the auction house was subsequently sued by the State. Lifson filed the actions seeking damages for alleged violations of his federal and state constitutional rights and for tortuous interference, but the complaints were dismissed and he later refiled them claiming that his due process rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated. Lifson’s counterclaims were dismissed again and he also lost an appeal filed with the New Jersey Appellate Division.
Lifson is no stranger to the court room and if he does take the stand in the Boehm trial he could be joined by Mastro, Marren and at least nine other individuals including Frank DiRoberto, whose account was used to shill-bid scores of auction house customers. While some observers feel that William Boehm might still enter a guilty plea like his co-Defendants others feel that the case will still move forward on September 9th. If it does, one thing is for sure. While many of the witnesses appearing for the government have checkered pasts due to the crimes they committed at Mastro Auctions, none of them, except perhaps Bill Mastro, will have as many credibility issues as Rob Lifson.
UPDATE (Aug. 28, 2014): Mastro-Lifson Courtroom Reunion Nixed By Scheduled Guilty Plea of Auction House IT-Guy
Bill Mastro working the auction house phones in better days when Mastro Fine Sports Auctions ruled the roost.
Papers filed in Chicago Federal Court on Tuesday indicate that ex-Mastro Auctions IT director William Boehm will be joining his co-defendants and pleading guilty for lying to FBI agents in 2007 about destroying bidding records that revealed rampant shill-bidding at the once prominent auction house. The scheduled guilty plea set for September 2nd also puts to bed the chances of a Courtroom reunion of ex-hobby friends and rivals Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions.
A source familiar with the case told Hauls of Shame last week that Boehm would likely plead guilty because the government’s evidence against him was particularly strong and included recovered computer data from Mastro company IP addresses and allegedly one of Bill Mastro’s own computers. So much for the memorabilia trial of the century.
UPDATE (Sept. 8, 2014): BOEHM PLEADS GUILTY; LAWYER DENIES LIFSON ROLE IN MASTRO FRAUD; WERE SMITHSONIAN & HENRY FORD MUSEUM VICTIMS OF SHILL-BIDDING ON ROSA PARKS BUS?
The MastroNet shill-bidding crimes covered up by William Boehm occurred under the watch of company directors Mastro, Lifson and Allen (left). Lifson's attorney, Barry Kozyra (right), denies his client's involvement in the Mastro crimes during his tenure as company President.
Former Mastro Auctions and MastroNet Inc. IT Director, William Boehm, plead guilty last week to one count of lying to FBI agents in the course of the Mastro investigation. Boehm’s plea agreement states that the maximum sentence for his offense is 5 years imprisonment but the Government is asking that he be sentenced to between 0 to 6 months with probation. The plea agreement also details Boehm’s involvement in destroying bidding records and disabling fraudulent bidding accounts in an attempt to conceal a massive company shill-bidding scheme. After Boehm was interviewed by FBI agents in Kirkwood, Misouri, in 2007 he called Bill Mastro and told him “not to worry about the FBI’s investigation because he ‘took care of it,’ meaning that defendant Boehm made false and fraudulent statements to the FBI agents in an attempt to intentionally mislead them.”
In response to our original report about the Boehm case, the lawyer for REA auctioneer Rob Lifson claims that his client was not involved in any MastroNet wrongdoing. In a cease and desist letter, attorney Barry Kozyra told Hauls of Shame, “Your latest report on the Mastro Auctions prosecution is a most bizarre attempt to turn reality upside down as to Mr. Lifson and REA. After outlining the prosecution’s case as to Mastro Auctions and the individuals involved, including those pleading guilty to felonies for fraud, you suggest that somehow Mr. Lifson is both guilty of the crimes of the Mastro Auctions defendants and is the key witness for the Government, neither of which is true.”
Of course, Hauls of Shame has accurately depicted Lifson as “one of the Government’s key witnesses” and Lifson’s appearance on the US Attorney’s witness list speaks for itself. In addition, the Boehm plea agreement sheds some more light on how far back the Mastro crimes extend and illustrates how they encompass the time period when Lifson was the President of MastroNet Inc. and was one of only three members of its Board of Directors along with Bill Mastro and Doug Allen, both of whom have already entered guilty pleas in the case.
This 2002 MastroNet website roster identifies Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson as the two primary principals for the auction giant. According to the Boehm plea agreement the MastroNet shill-bidding schemes date back to Lifson's tenure between 2001-2003.
Boehm’s plea agreement states that “In or around 2001, (Bill) Mastro requested that defendant Boehm provide him with a “dead paddle,” a paddle associated with an inactive bidder account, which he could use in order to place shill bids. After Mastro told defendant Boehm what he needed, defendant Boehm told Mastro that he could use the F.D. (Frank DiRoberto) account. Frank DiRoberto was a friend of defendant Boehm’s, and, as an accommodation so that he would receive free catalogs from the auction house.” Then, by 2003, the plea agreement details how, “Mastro, in an effort to conceal shill bids he had placed using the F.D. (Frank DiRoberto) account, asked defendant Boehm to destroy all Auction House under bidder records associated with the F.D. account.”
Contrary to the claims made by Lifson’s attorney, Barry Kozyra, the Boehm plea agreement shows that the Mastro shill bidding schemes were in effect during Lifson’s tenure as a President and Director of MastroNet from 2001 to the Spring of 2003. Kozyra had no answers as to why his client lied to Murray Chass in 2013 and said the Mastro crimes “occurred long after” he left MastroNet. Back in April of 2002, an interview with Mastronet VP Doug Allen on David Cycleback’s The Vintage Collector website revealed who had control of the auction house business. When asked how MastroNet secured “unequaled sports material, both in quality and volume,” Allen responded stating, “Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson (President of Americana Division) are the biggest catalysts for doing this.” The current plea agreement shows that Mastro had instructed Boehm to destroy bidding records in 2003 and a source tells us that was when Mastro decided to split with Lifson and that he feared his old partner and rival might someday turn on him.
Between 2000 and 2003 Lifson and Mastro presided over the single largest collectibles auction house in the world conducting over twenty major auctions that grossed well over $100 million—and all of those sales took place during the time period Bill Mastro has admitted to engaging in fraudulent shill bidding schemes. That being said, according to Lifson’s lawyer, Barry Kozyra, his client is “not guilty of the crimes of the Mastro Auctions defendants.” As for Hauls of Shame’s reporting of the Mastro case and Lifson’s involvement Kozyra added, “Your continued attempt to cast Mr. Lifson and REA in a negative light with lies, innuendo and twisting of words-often fabricated or extracted from bits and pieces of reality and placed in a fictional world of your own- is most unfair and damaging.” Kozyra also claims that the Hauls of Shame reports regarding the Mastro case are a “wrongful attempt to humiliate, embarrass and damage Mr. Lifson.” Kozyra, however, had no explanation for Lifson’s staunch defense of Mastro in 2002 when he told this writer, “I can assure you that we (MastroNet) run the cleanest auction on the face of the earth.” Kozyra has also requested that we remove the audio of Lifson defending Mastro claiming it was “illegally obtained.”
Sources indicate that the Smithsonian and The Henry Ford Museum were the victims of shill bidding schemes that took place under the watch of Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson.
Despite the statements made by Lifson’s lawyer, the Mastro guilty pleas have focused even more scrutiny on major items sold by Mastro and Lifson during the time they were partners. In particular, several sources allege that the Mastro shill-bidding machine may have been in full swing during the bidding for the alleged Rosa Parks bus which was discovered by Lifson on eBay and sold to The Henry Ford Museum for $492,000 in the MastroNet’s first Americana auction in 2001. It was in MastroNet’s second Americana auction in 2002 that Mastro shill-bid Ohio political fundraiser Tom Noe and admitted to it in his recent guilty plea.
It was Lifson who secured the 2001 consignment of the bus from owner Donnie Williams and along with Mastro advanced $25,000 to the consignor in exchange for a higher than usual auction house fee upon sale. MastroNet placed a minimum bid of $50,000 on the bus which had failed to sell for a $100,000 minimum previously on eBay. After the bus appeared on eBay a second time, Lifson contacted the seller who withdrew the item and then consigned it to MastroNet. Sources indicate that the bidding approached a record $500,000 via shill-bidding that allegedly defrauded The Henry Ford Museum, The Smithsonian and the City of Denver, who were all bidding on the bus.
We asked one prominent collector familiar with the FBIs shill-bidding investigation whether he believed the Rosa Parks bus was shill-bid and he responded, “With Mastro, the (surviving) bidding records which weren’t purposely destroyed reveal that if it could be shilled it was shilled. Nothing was sacred to Mastro and no money was ever left on the table. I have no doubt that they committed fraud in the Rosa Parks bus auction.”
Hauls of Shame contacted the Henry Ford Museum to ask if they were aware of the Mastro guilty pleas and the evidence included in the plea agreements suggesting that the Mastro shill bidding schemes were in play when they were bidding on the bus. A representative of the Ford Museum said that the individuals responsible for acquiring the bus were no longer working at the institution. The Henry Ford public relations department did not return our call for comment.
By Peter J. Nash
August 1, 2014
(Scroll to bottom for update)
The History Channel’s hit show Pawn Stars was the scene of one of the most embarrassing blunders in authentication history when PSA/DNA’s alleged expert, John Reznikoff, told millions of viewers that a Godfather movie script was signed by Al Pacino when it was actually signed by movie producer Al Ruddy. In another instance, pawn shop owner Rick Harrison said he lost 15-grand when he purchased a bogus book alleged to have been signed by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson that was authenticated by former PSA an current JSA authenticator Herman Darvick. But when Harrison sent the book to PSA/DNA, he got a letter back signed by the company’s senior authenticator, Steve Grad, stating that the Jackson autograph was not authentic. Safe to say, the show’s producers wanted to avoid any future embarrassments similar to the Reznikoff incident and other on-air authentication debacles orchestrated by former on-air expert Drew Max. Max billed himself as a forensic document examiner but he was notorious for authenticating signatures of players that had been placed on balls manufactured after they died as well as certifying as genuine mass produced facsimile signatures of historical figures like FDR.
As a result of these embarrassing episodes, Pawn Stars apparently cut ties with Max after a few seasons and Reznikoff has not appeared on the show since the Pacino debacle. In response to the on-air flubs, the popular cable franchise forged a new relationship with PSA/DNA authenticator, Steve Grad, to become the new expert for autographed items that walk into the Las Vegas pawn shop. PSA President, Joe Orlando, announced the partnership between the reality show and the subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe in a press release which stated, “One of the missions of Professional Sports Authenticator and PSA/DNA Authentication Services is education. Steve Grad serves not only as an authentication expert, but also a great ambassador for the hobby of collecting.” But according to a 2011 deposition Grad gave for to a lawsuit filed against PSA and Collectors Universe, it is Grad’s own education and the fabrication of his own professional history that are now calling into question his own credibility and the authenticity of millions of dollars worth of items that he has certified as genuine.
In one of Grad’s early appearances on Pawn Stars in June of 2013, a customer walked into the shop with a Babe Ruth signed bank check that was already accompanied by a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity signed by Grad. Rick Harrison looked at the letter and told his customer, “It’s signed by Steve, he’s a friend of mine.” Harrison added, “I know its legit because my buddy Steve authenticated it.” Harrison views Grad as a credible expert in the field and the top representative of the authentication giant PSA which company President Joe Orlando described in his Pawn Stars press release as having “examined and certified over 20 million different sports, entertainment and historical collectibles with a combined total value of over $1 billion.”
Steve Grad's online bios published by MastroNet and PSA mention his holding a "BA in Broadcast Journalism" and state that his major at Columbia College led to a career as a broadcaster.
When it comes to autograph authentication, Steve Grad is PSA’s principal authenticator and he has the final say whether collectors’ items will become trash or treasure after PSA/DNA issues its LOA bearing his facsimile signature. Grad’s bio on the PSA website has included references to his educational background which the company says led to his early career in radio including a stint on Sporting News Radio and a role as “Psycho Steve” on the Mancow Show. The current bio states that Grad’s ”major in Broadcast Journalism at Columbia College launched him into the radio world for seven years.” In addition, the bio included a link to another PSA-authored article which describes Grad’s authentication training as having been acquired while he was working for Bill Mastro at MastroNet Inc. between 1999 and 2002. In that 2006 article, Grad calls his time working for Mastro as “life changing” and added that he was a “quick learner” who after a short period of time was “authenticating autographs and assisting in the authentication and acquisition of memorabilia for MastroNet’s sports and non-sports auctions.” PSA, however, has edited out all references to Grad’s past history with Mastro Auctions since his mentor, Bill Mastro was indicted on auction fraud charges in 2012. When Grad was working at MastroNet he was featured on the company website as an “Autograph Authenticator” who had been “involved in the autograph industry for more than 20 years” and that he had “obtained more than 100,000 signatures of sports stars, celebrities, musicians and politicians–all in person.” In addition to being an “autograph chaser” Mastro also specifically noted in the bio that Grad held a “BA in Broadcast Journalism.”
Grad has been portrayed as a college-graduate and a professionally trained expert in his field and guys like Rick Harrison and thousands of other PSA customers look to his opinion as the deciding factor as to whether they will pay big money for an item offered for sale. But as Hauls of Shame has illustrated in our “Worst 100 Authentications” and several other investigative reports, Grad has certified scores of forgeries as authentic and has cost collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses due to his authentication malpractice. Now, Hauls of Shame has learned that not only has Grad authenticated fakes for years, but he also faked his own personal biography to portray himself in a better light. As it turns out, Grad never graduated from Columbia College and never earned a degree in Broadcast Journalism. In addition, Grad committed perjury and lied about receiving a degree from Columbia College when he was deposed in a 2011 lawsuit filed against his company for authenticating a signature of aviator Charles Lindbergh that Lindbergh’s daughter and her expert claimed was not genuine. The autograph was included in an Upper Deck relic card along with an alleged strand of Lindbergh’s hair that was provided by PSA’s John Reznikoff. A collector named Steven Sterpka acquired the card and later filed a lawsuit alleging that Grad and PSA/DNA had rejected the Lindbergh autograph when he later submitted it to RR Auctions, after PSA/DNA had already authenticated it. Court documents show that PSA ultimately retracted that reversal of its original opinion. When asked about that reversal in his deposition, all Grad would say is that, “A mistake was made.”
Grad said he was a college graduate and committed perjury in a court-ordered 2011 deposition for a lawsuit against his employer, Collectors Universe, that involved his authentication of a Charles Lindbergh autograph.
In the court ordered deposition taken by attorney Douglas Jaffe, Grad claimed to have received a degree in “Broadcast Journalism” and when asked if he had “received any formal education after (he) obtained (his) degree from Columbia College,” Grad replied, “No.” Grad also could not remember when he graduated from Columbia College and when pressed for an exact year he answered, “Mid-90s.” Some people reading Grad’s bios published by PSA and MastroNet may have assumed that Grad attended Columbia College in New York City and that his “Broadcast journalism” degree was affiliated with the world-famous Columbia School of Journalism, but the school’s Registrar, Marvin Cohen, confirmed for Hauls of Shame that Grad only “attended Columbia College Chicago from the Spring 1993 to the end of the Fall 1994 semester” and that he “did not graduate from the college.” In addition, Allison Sullivan of the Registrar’s Office at Chicago’s Roosevelt University confirmed that Grad “was enrolled at Roosevelt University from Spring 1990 to Fall 1992, but did not receive a degree. His major at the time of enrollment was Speech Broadcasting.”
Also revealed in his testimony under oath, Grad stated that he had no formal training as an authenticator and that his primary training and education was provided by Bill Mastro and his auction house between 1999 and 2002. Grad said, “(Mastro) exposed me to everything they see, what to look out for, different consignments that came in. It was very educational.” When asked what Mastro educated him to look out for when authenticating items Grad answered, “Forgeries to look out for, telltale signs.” When asked what those tell-tale signs were Grad replied, “Fountain pens, ballpoint pens, different inks that forgers use to make things look old.”
Dan Knoll (left) was another hobby mentor to Steve Grad who is pictured with (l to r) Mastro and PSA authenticators John Reznikoff; Roger Epperson and Zach Rullo.
As revealed in our last “Operation Bambino” report, Grad may also have learned how to pass off forgeries as genuine items in Mastro sales. As illustrated in our report, Grad and his former colleague, Jimmy Spence, have been authenticating forged Babe Ruth signatures dating back to the time when they were working as authenticators for Mastro, who recently plead guilty to fraud he committed while operating Mastro Auctions up until 2007. Grad’s habitual authentication of forgeries, however, extends to the present day as evidenced by a baseball he authenticated that was removed from a sale conducted by Grey Flannel Auctions earlier this summer. Grad authenticated that ball as the genuine article signed by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in 1928, but the ball itself was a modern day reproduction doctored up to look vintage and the signatures were facsimiles of forgeries that may have been placed on the ball by a stamp or a machine. Sources indicate that Grey Flannel and its principal, Richard Russek, are also targets of the FBIs on-going Mastro investigation.
Grad has also attributed his success in the hobby to his affiliation with another Mastro associate, Dan Knoll, who lived across the street from Grad in suburban Chicago in the 1990s. Knoll was a well known hobby veteran who operated as both a dealer and authenticator for the past several decades and Grad told PSAs Sports Market Report, “He (Dan Knoll) taught me about autographs, how to collect them, store them, and about values and authenticity.” Knoll has been a business partner and close confidant of Mastro for the past several decades but sources indicate that it was Knoll who wore a wire for the government and helped obtain audio of Mastro admitting he had trimmed the now infamous PSA-8 T206 Honus Wagner card.
PSA's advertisements have featured fakes and frauds including the now infamous trimmed Mastro-T206 Wagner and a Steve Grad authenticated Babe Ruth forgery (left). As Bill Mastro is currently vilified on ESPN by Keith Olbermann (top right), Steve Grad appears on news telecasts geared towards consumer protection (bottom right).
On the current PSA website Grad says he owes a tremendous debt of gratitude” to both Mastro and Knoll and adds, “If it hadn’t been for them, I may never (have) had the chance to do what I’m doing today.” Without the help from Mastro and Knoll, Grad says his ascent to principal authenticator at PSA “would have been a tremendous uphill battle for me.” Considering the key role Mastro played in establishing the autograph authentication service at PSA; Grad’s close relationship with both Mastro and Knoll; and Grad’s authentication of forgeries distributed through Mastro auctions, sources indicate that Grad could be a target in the Mastro investigation as his old mentor cooperates with the Feds pursuant to his plea agreement. Earlier this summer Mastro’s sentencing was postponed again until October 15, 2014, and sources indicate the postponement is a sign that prosecutors are gathering more information from Mastro in their prosecution of his co-defendants and other hobby associates like Grad. The fact that Grad committed perjury under oath and has authenticated scores of forgeries in recent auctions suggests that investigators could take a closer look at Grad and the public company Collectors Universe (CLCT).
Steve Grad (left) finished filming episodes for "Pawn Stars" earlier this summer with Rick Harrison (right).
Despite all of the controversy swirling around PSA in relation to the FBIs Mastro investigation, Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars still holds the company and Grad in high regard. In a 2012 interview in the Topeka Capital-Journal Harrison talked about PSA and Grad saying, “There is so much fake stuff out there. Anyone with a decent computer and printer can make a COA (Certificate of Authenticity). I have a friend who makes his living verifying signatures and I use that guy all of the time. PSA is really the only group I trust. I will hold off if they don’t have a PSA with them, unless they sign it right there in front of you.”
Harrison’s endorsement of PSA suggests that he and the producers of his TV show haven’t conducted sufficient due diligence to examine Grad’s expensive authentication blunders on Ed Delahanty, Albert Spalding, Mickey Welch, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Candy Cummings, Jimmy Collins, Rocky Marciano and other recklessly authenticated signatures on items manufactured after the alleged signers died including a letter dated ten years after WWII Admiral Nimitz passed away.
Hauls of Shame attempted to contact Harrison this week to ask him about his relationship with Grad and about the authenticator’s fabricated biography but his Las Vegas-based spokesperson, Laura Herlovich, said Harrison was unavailable for comment and on vacation until Labor Day.
The problems for PSA and Grad are said to extend far beyond just the perjury, fabrications of biographies and the authentications of forgeries that the company and its supporters call “honest mistakes.” Additional allegations have been made identifying Grad and fellow PSA authenticator John Reznikoff as manufacturers of bogus materials. Reznikoff was also caught fabricating his own educational history after exaggerating his attendance records from Fordham University. Like Grad, Reznikoff is not a college graduate and falsely stated in his online biographies that he attended Fordham for four years. Reznikoff also has a history selling forgeries as noted in a 1999 The New York Times report that illustrates how Reznikoff authenticated and sold millions in forged documents attributed to JFK and Marilyn Monroe. Reznikoff’s business partner, Lawrence X. Cusack III, claimed to have discovered the trove of JFK documents that Reznikoff authenticated but ABC News hired forensic specialists who determined they were all fakes.
Reznikoff was recently implicated in a 2012 Hauls of Shame report identifying the travels of a fraudulent baseball alleged to have been signed by a US President that had its “provenance” attributed to the PSA authenticator. The Harry Truman single-signed baseball appeared for sale at Mastro Auctions in May of 2001 and at RR Auctions in November of 2004, and originally came with a MastroNet LOA from Mike Gutierrez who was employed by Bill Mastro at the time. Mastro described the Truman signature as a “2″ on a scale of “10″ and RR identified the presidential scrawl as “light” with the date “a bit harder to see” and accompanied by COA’s from RR and “John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA.” But when the same ball sold three years later at EAC Galleries it had transformed into a much darker signature and was described as the “Finest Example Extant” with its provenance attributed to John Reznikoff. The transformed Truman signature was first exposed in Stephen Koschal’s 2012 book, Collecting Signatures of The Presidents, and since that time it has been alleged that the Truman ball was transformed while it was in Reznikoff’s possession.
PSA/DNA has examined and authenticated items that have been fraudulently transformed from barely visible signatures to dark gem mint examples executed on paper items and baseballs. Examples include a Honus Wagner signature on a 1939 HOF first day cover (top) and a Harry Truman signed baseball linked to PSA's John Reznikoff.
A similar miraculous transformation of a Honus Wagner signature occurred with another Mastro auction lot that was examined by Grad in 2001 as Mastro’s lead “autograph expert.” The Wagner signature was described in a 1999 Mastro auction as “somewhat faded” and barely visible on a rare 1939 Hall of Fame First Day Cover signed by Wagner and every other HOF inductee. But when it sold again in a 2001 MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions sale, it appeared fraudulently enhanced as a dark “10/10″ Wagner signature. The signature was examined and certified genuine by Grad and Mike Gutierrez for MastroNet and by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA. Sources allege that Mastro and his associates may have been involved in the “restoration” of the Wagner signature from a faded to mint example. In the course of the FBI’s Mastro investigation several allegations had been leveled against Mastro claiming that the auctioneer had restored other memorabilia items and baseball cards without disclosing the work done to customers.
Steve Grad has also been linked to the sale and alleged creation of other forgeries dating back to his career as a dealer in the 1990s. Sources say he was removed from the floor of the 1998 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago after he was accused of attempting to sell forgeries and, according to one eyewitness account, was escorted from the Rosemont Exhibition Center by convention security. When asked about the incident in another court ordered deposition related to a 2006 lawsuit filed against Mastro Auctions, Grad stated he did not recall being ejected from the show, but did not deny the incident happened.
More recently, the identification of various Babe Ruth forgeries in our “Operation Bambino” investigation has led to further speculation and allegations by high-placed hobby sources who say that Grad has ties to many other forgeries that were distributed through Bill Mastro’s auction house. After he started working at the Chicago based company he told fellow collectors in May of 2000 in a Google Group, “I was made a good offer and I wasn’t in a position to turn it down, so I took Mastro Fine Sports up on their offer and they purchased my entire inventory and now I work for them.” Grad subsequently authenticated his own material for later Mastro sales and sources indicate that Grad was also beholden to Mastro operating under a quid pro quo to authenticate premier items placed in Mastro sales. Supporting those allegations, Mastro told this writer on several occasions about having to “twist the arms” of Grad and Jimmy Spence to authenticate items slated for his sales. This was after Mastro had expressed his opinion of the “so-called autograph experts” in the hobby in a 1994 letter where he wrote that they, “Don’t know shit.” Mastro was influential in the formation of the PSA/DNA autograph authentication division of PSA and had considerable influence over his former employee who he elevated to expert status under his watchful eye.
Steve Grad will be signing autographs at the National on Saturday as the "Pawn Stars Expert" (left). Babe Ruth is apparently still signing autographs based upon all of the Grad and PSA/DNA authenticated Ruth forgeries on the market (right).
Additional evidence suggests that Grad has also knowingly authenticated Babe Ruth forgeries for the past fifteen years in order to protect personal friends, associates and auction house clients who would have to reimburse consumers if PSA/DNA opinions were rightfully reversed. Sources indicate that as a result of our recent reports Grad’s authentications are under fire and customers who have been defrauded are demanding reimbursements from PSA and in the process of reporting their situations to the FBI and the Judge presiding over the Mastro case. Sources indicate that PSA/DNA has recently rejected several Babe Ruth autographs submitted to auctions with previously issued PSA/DNA LOAs from Grad and Spence.
Keith Attlesey, an attorney representing both Grad and PSA, did not respond to our request for comment and did not confirm whether he was aware that Grad had perjured himself at the time of the 2011 deposition. The current PSA website does not identify Grad as a college graduate like the MastroNet site had previously, thus suggesting that PSA officials may have been aware of Grad’s misrepresentations and his perjury under oath.
Grad and PSA/DNA currently serve as the authenticators of choice for major auction houses including Lelands, SCP, Heritage, Goldin and Huggins & Scott, all of which currently advertise on the PSA/Collectors Universe website. We asked some of the auctioneers for their reaction to Grad’s perjury and their opinion of his authentication skills considering his admission that he received his training and education from Bill Mastro. Josh Evans, Chairman of Lelands, responded but declined comment and Ken Goldin, President of Goldin Auctions, did not reply to our inquiry. Lelands has always relied on its in-house authentication services and only recently has the auction house advertised with or utilized PSA/DNA experts like Grad. Goldin, who has privately been critical of the experts he has dealt with at PSA/DNA offered several questionable items authenticated by PSA/DNA in his most recent Babe Ruth Anniversary auction.
Several dealers blacklisted by PSA in response to criticism leveled against the authentication giant have alleged what they claim amounts to a form of hobby racketeering. PSA, they claim, offers protection against returns of materials submitted by customers who purchase from dealers or auction houses who are big PSA clients and in good standing. Hauls of Shame has confirmed that claims of racketeering have been presented to FBI agents by at least two individuals who believe they have been victimized and harassed by PSA officials.
Steve Grad’s own words on the PSA website are a prime example as to why third-party authentication companies need to be regulated. Of his company, Grad says, “There is no dealer, auction house or collector in their right mind that doesn’t use our services, and that is because we deliver. Whether it’s with sportscards or autographs, PSA and PSA/DNA give the item instant credibility.”
One major collector who owns several hundred thousand dollars worth of material accompanied by Grad’s letters of authenticity told us, “If this guy Grad is lying under oath about something like his schooling how can I really be confident these certifications of authenticity are worth the paper they are printed on? Would he intentionally pass bad items, too? And with his close ties to Mastro, how can he ever be considered credible as an expert?”
Another hobby heavyweight was more amused by Grad’s scheduled appearance to sign autographs today as a Pawn Stars expert for fans at the Leaf booth at the National. He told us, “I sure hope he doesn’t slip up and sign someone else’s name.”
UPDATE (August 15th): Mastro Guilty Pleas Could Be Bad News For Collectors Universe; Graders Slabbed Fraudulent T-206 Plank But Feds Say PSA Was Not Complicit In Scheme To Defraud Collectors; Source Says PSA/DNA Is Complicit In Autograph Fraud
Doug Allen's plea agreement details the re-backing of a T206 Plank sold at Mastro for $51,000 (left). Allen endorsed PSA/DNA's autograph division headed by Joe Orlando(right) and Steve Grad.
Mastro Auctions executive Doug Allen plead guilty to one count of mail fraud earlier this week in Federal Court in Chicago and, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, his plea agreement also detailed his obstruction of justice after agreeing to wear a wire for the government. Adding to the intrigue, court papers filed in Chicago also revealed that Mastro employee William Boehm will be going to trial in September and that two of the government’s witnesses slated to testify against him will be card-trimming buddies Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson of REA.
But also revealed in the court papers filed by US Attorneys was new information confirming that Mastro executives restored and or replaced the back of a rare but damaged T-206 Eddie Plank baseball card. Doug Allen’s plea agreement states that Allen restored the card and a Mastro employee submitted the card to PSA where it received a high grade of “Ex-Mt 6″ before selling for over $51,519 in a 2004 Mastro sale. In the plea agreement, the government says, “Neither Allen or the employee ever disclosed to the grading company (PSA) that the T-206 Eddie Plank card had been altered. Defendant Allen knew that, had he disclosed that the card was altered, the grading company would not have assigned the card a numerical grade of “6,” which had the effect of artificially increasing the value of the card.”
Contrary to the government’s claim, the 2004 Mastro auction listing for the Plank card sheds some light on PSA’s possible complicity in the crime. The lot description stated:
“Graded EX-MT 6 by PSA, with only three examples in the world graded higher. Of the 26 copies of this card encapsulated by PSA (a total that’s only a few more than the hobby’s premier service has holdered of the famed T206 Honus Wagner card), the offered specimen is head-and-shoulders above nearly all of them in terms of refinement and preservation. Forever compared to the Wagner in terms of rarity, it can be stated definitively that the white-bordered tobacco insert card of Eddie Plank is the second most valuable baseball card in our hobby.”
While Bill Mastro admitted in his own plea agreement to trimming the fraudulent T-206 Honus Wagner card which was graded an “8″ by PSA, the Mastro Plank description notes the competing rarity of the Plank card and states that at the time PSA had only graded 26 examples of the card. The government apparently believes that PSA graders are so incompetent that they could be fooled by both the Mastro trim-job and the Allen re-backing of the Plank card with a better “ex-mt” 350 Sweet Caporal back.
Several sources have told Hauls of Shame that the likelier scenario is that Mastro and his executives never had to instruct PSA to do a thing and that Mastro’s company was automatically given high grades for scores of altered and doctored cards simply because they wanted the support and business of the largest auction entity of the business. The trimmed T-206 cards from the dubious “Harris Collection” found in PSA holders with grades of “8″ and other graded T-206 cards from the set purchased byBruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky at Sotheby’s in 1991 stand as evidence of the alleged quid-pro-quo between Mastro and PSA as it was known by PSA graders that the cards originated from Mastro.
Once cards are encapsulated by PSA with favorable grades it is highly unlikely that the cards will ever be examined in their natural state again to detect fraud. Breaking the holder open would jeopardize the value of the commodity that PSA has already created value for. Other notable PSA gradings of fraudulent T-206 cards include examples of the Magie, Snodgrass and Doyle error cards. One hobbyist told us, “If PSA cant (detect) a re-back on a rarity, then how many re-backs are out there in PSA holders? Hard to believe Mastro would only send one valuable T-206 to get re-backed, especially if it worked and got into a holder. Crooks rarely do something just once.”
Interestingly enough, the Mastro plea agreements are devoid of any mention of the bogus autographed items sold by Mastro and authenticated by PSAs Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence. Included in that group of fraudulent material are dozens of Babe Ruth fakes created by just one forger who executed Bill Mastro’s now infamous Ruth photo inscribed to actor Gary Cooper. Sources familiar with PSAs internal operations confirmed for HOS that the company was aware of the Ruth fakes dating back to 2000 but continued to authenticate the counterfeits and even used them in print advertisements with endorsements from Mastro auction executives (see PSA print ad above). More recently Legendary Auctions steered away from Steve Grad and PSA/DNA and entered into an agreement with former PSA authenticator Jimmy Spence of JSA to handle the authentications for autographed items consigned to the Illinois auction house.
While the government appears to give PSA a pass in relation to its grading of the fraudulent T-206 Plank card, one former Mastro customer and victim told us that he has knowledge of PSA President Joe Orlando’s involvement in criminal activity related to a PSA-certed autographed item sold in a Mastro sale. The big question now is whether the government will continue its investigation and examine the PSA/DNA-Mastro relationships starting with Steve Grad. Sources at the National Convention in Cleveland reported to Hauls of Shame that Grad stormed out of the PSA booth when an FBI agent commandeered the company’s “Spectrograph” machine to examine an 1869 Peck & Snyder Red Stocking trade card temporarily confiscated from auctioneer Leon Luckey.
Collector and New York defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who once represented John Gotti Jr., has been outspoken in his criticism of Mastro & Co. and weighed in on the plea agreements at collector forum Net54. Adding to the speculation that PSA is in the government’s cross-hairs Lichtman said, “I’m sure Doug Allen provided all info to the federal investigators about PSA when he was cooperating” and added, “Regardless, I have no doubt Joe Orlando is more nervous than usual these days.”
By Peter J. Nash
July 24, 2014
(Scroll to bottom for Updates)
When the authenticity of Babe Ruth’s alleged 1923 World Series pocket watch and a bogus letter attributed to 19th century HOFer John M. Ward were questioned earlier this year, Heritage Auctions sports director, Chris Ivy, told Hauls of Shame, “Heritage would never sell an item which we do not believe to be genuine.”
But despite Ivy’s emphatic claim, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, is offering more fakes and frauds in its Platinum Night Auction scheduled for July 31st at The House of Blues in Cleveland in conjunction with the National Sports Collectors Convention. Ivy recently raised some eyebrows when a Heritage press release was picked up by the Associated Press and ESPN advertising the upcoming sale of an alleged Lou Gehrig signed ticket from “Gehrig Day” in 1939 that he calls “the most significant baseball ticket in the world.” The AP reports that the ticket is “estimated to bring over $100,000″ at the live event in Cleveland. Several experts and hobby observers, however, think that the Gehrig signature on the ticket is not genuine, but even more disturbing is another Heritage lot in the glitzy auction catalog that has been identified as a counterfeit 1882 Cincinnati Reds presentational pocket watch attributed to 19th-century star Charlie Gould. The auction house estimates the timepiece could sell for over $60,000 but the alleged 1882 Reds championship watch is actually a well-documented fake created by early 1990’s forger Randy Lee Marshall.
Marshall, a former batboy for the Reds, was convicted in 1993 for mail and wire fraud and was sentenced to twenty one months in prison as a result of an FBI investigation. Marshall identified the watch currently being offered by Heritage on his own personal “Top 10 Forgeries” list which was published in Cincinnati Magazine in 1995 (the article incorrectly identified the watch as being dated 1888). In addition to peddling that historic fake, Heritage is also continuing its unfettered sales of stolen documents from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with the offering of a 1923 letter written by Christy Mathewson protesting a game between the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers in 1923. The National Baseball Library’s files house the August Herrmann Papers collection which includes letters and affidavits for protested games in the National League spanning from 1902 to 1926.
Chris Ivy’s inclusion of the counterfeit Charlie Gould watch in the current Heritage sale is stunning considering the pocket watch had been identified in public records as a forgery several years after it was sold in 1991 at Richard Wolfers Auctions. The watch appeared in a sale conducted by Democratic Party fundraiser Duane Garrett who had also sold other fakes created by Randy Marshall including Harry Wright’s boots, Babe Ruth’s St. Mary’s Industrial School uniform and a pocket watch allegedly presented to President William Howard Taft. All of the items came with forged documents alleging provenance from government officials and Major League owners. Like Heritage’s Gould watch, the Wolfers lot description said the phony Harry Wright boots were:
“Accompanied by extensive documentation including a copy of a 1952 letter from U. S. Senator Robert A. Taft to Clark Griffith loaning these boots (which were the treasured property of the Fleischman family of Cincinnati) to an exhibition and a letter from the Hall of Fame that states in part “As you know these fabulous artifacts are some of the earliest known examples of the Red Stockings and the birth of baseball”. Of the highest order of importance and rarity.”
Wolfers estimated the value at $15,000-17,500 and the boots ended up selling for $3,300. The Wright boots were again recently identified as fakes in a post published by researcher Jimmy Leiderman at The New York Clipper in 2012. The Taft watch, said to be presented to the President at the dedication of Redland Field in 1912, includes similar forged documents including a 1952 letter from Senator Taft to Clark Griffith.
Duane Garrett (center) offered the bogus 1882 Reds watch for sale in his 1991 "Treasures of The Game" auction at Richard Wolfers in San Francisco. The watch had the same alleged provenance as another counterfeit watch attributed to President William Howard Taft. Both watches were created by convicted forger Randall Lee Marshall (inset top right).
Ivy and Heritage estimate the value of the bogus watch at “$60,000 and up” and state in the current lot description:
“The watch first entered the collecting hobby in a 1991 auction, when it was accompanied by an impressive folder of letters detailing its provenance. While the originals have since been lost, photocopies remain, including: 1) 1952 letter from US Senator Robert Taft to Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith lending the watch for display. 2) 1981 letter from Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt to an unknown recipient (presumably Taft or his family) thanking him for allowing the watch to be displayed at a restaurant. 3) 1986 letter from Baseball Hall of Fame President Edward Stack to the same unknown recipient requesting donation of the watch for the museum’s permanent display.”
The Heritage lot description describes the Gould watch as a “special award” presented to Gould after the Reds won the American Association championship in 1882. Although Gould had no apparent affiliation with the Reds in 1882, Heritage states without any supporting evidence, “Some form of coaching role is the most likely association.” When Wolfers sold the watch they described it as “one of the most important pieces of baseball jewelry ever to come onto the market.”
Similar to other questionable lots sold by Ivy and Heritage in the past, the auction house does not post any of the alleged letters of provenance with the Gould watch. After his conviction, Marshall admitted he had forged all of the additional documentation that supported the authenticity of his creations. In a 1995 article published in The Boston Globe Marshall was quoted as saying, “Some of my items are in the Smithsonian, some are in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame….Even now, I look at catalogs from Christie’s and Sotheby’s and I still see my pieces.” In the 1995 Cincinnati Magazine feature article called “The Forger” Marshall identified his own work in a Wolfers catalog and said, “That’s mine,” when he spotted a c.1900 Honus Wagner jersey he had created by adding the chain-stitched “Wagner” name to a period Spalding flannel. Wolfers valued the fake at “$175,000-$200,000.”
Randy Marshall's forgeries ended up in major auctions including: Babe Ruth's St. Mary's jersey (left) which appeared on the cover of both Superior and Wolfers catalogs in 1991; Harry Wright's boots (inset) in Wolfers; and Honus Wagner's c.1900 jersey at Wolfers in 1995 (right).
At the time Marshall’s forgeries were circulating in the hobby, current Heritage consignment directors Mark Jordan and Mike Gutierrez were working for Wolfers and Duane Garrett as consignment agents and authenticators. After the bogus Babe Ruth St. Mary’s uniform failed to sell at Wolfers in 1991 it resurfaced in two later sales held by Superior Auctions in Beverly Hills in 1992 and 1993 when Gutierrez was working exclusively for LA Kings owner Bruce McNall as Superior’s baseball consultant. By the time Randy Marshall was convicted and his creations were identified in the press, Mark Jordan had already authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of other forged items that had appeared in Wolfers sales. After this writer and several other experts and hobbyists illustrated how many forgeries were appearing in the Wolfers auction catalogs the once prominent auction house lost credibility and faced further scrutiny which led to auction founder Duane Garrett’s alleged suicide jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ex-Cincinnati Reds batboy Randy Lee Marshall was convicted after an FBI investigation that included his admission that he created an engraved pocket watch presented to Charlie Gould. The watch appears on a "Top 10" list of Marshall's forgeries published in Cincinnati Magazine in 1995 (right).
According to Cincinnati Magazine, Marshall also used the alias, Geoff Wayne, and created scores of forgeries that made their way into other major auctions as well as exhibits at the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. There were also talks of one of Marshall’s Ruth fakes even landing in a display case at the FBI office in Minneapolis. Marshall created other relics ranging from Yankee pitcher Waite Hoyt’s 1927 World Series ring to a silver bat he crafted as Lou Gehrig’s 1936 MVP award which he called his “finest” work. Heritage is currently offering another 1927 Yankee World Series ring attributed to Earle Combs, but that ring appears to be authentic and originates from Combs’ grandson. Marshall also ventured into football items and created a 1972 Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl trophy. The current Heritage sale includes two misrepresented Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl rings that have been doctored with unofficial engraving and appear to be salesman’s samples.
The Reds erected a monument above Charlie Gould's grave in 1951 and forger Randy Marshall created a fake watch allegedly honoring him in 1882. Marshall also created a bogus watch he said was presented to President Taft at the dedication of Redland Field in 1912.
The evidence that Heritage’s 1882 Reds watch is a fake is so overwhelming one has to question what type of due diligence Chris Ivy, Mike Gutierrez, Mark Jordan, Rob Rosen and Derek Grady conduct when it comes to vetting major items appearing in HA sales. Hauls of Shame has identified other alleged fakes that Heritage has offered including the “last out ball” from the 1917 World Series. The auction house removed that ball from a 2012 sale when our report illustrated that the ball wasn’t manufactured until 1926. More recently, Heritage proceeded with the sale of a bogus document said to bear the rare autograph of HOFer John M. Ward, despite the fact that Hauls of Shame and other experts definitively identified the Ward autograph as an obvious secretarial signature.
Randy Marshall, who currently lives in Saint Augustine, Florida, and operates an online collectibles store called “Dead Peoples Things” did not respond to our request for comment.
The Lou Gehrig signed ticket in the current HA sale (right) has been identified as a forgery by experts and is similar in construction to two other single-signed Gehrig balls sold at HA and Mastro Auctions (left).
In 2012, Heritage offered a single-signed Lou Gehrig baseball that several experts, including author Ron Keurajian, opined was a forgery. The ball was signed on an official American League ball believed to have been manufactured in 1940 when Gehrig could not have signed the ball due to his physical condition. Heritage removed the ball from the sale as a result of our report but later returned the same ball to a 2013 auction after they uncovered evidence suggesting that it was possible for Gehrig to have signed that particular type of AL baseball in late 1939. But even if Gehrig could have signed the ball sometime in 1939, that fact appears irrelevant based upon the opinions that the Gehrig signature on the ball is not genuine. The signature on the Heritage ball and the signature on the ticket currently being offered for sale are both inconsistent with other verifiable authentic signatures executed by Gehrig during the same period during 1939.
Authentic Lou Gehrig signatures executed in the summer of 1939 contrast the alleged Gehrig signature on the ticket being offered by Heritage (bottom in red). The genuine Gehrig signatures appear clockwise from top left: 1. July 16, 1939 letter; 2. June 20, 1939 check to Mayo clinic; 3. Letter to Doctor from September, 1939; 4. Letter from July 7, 1939; 5. Letter from 1939 on PSA "Autograph Facts" page.
The “Gehrig-Day” ticket signature appears to have been executed with considerable hesitation and stoppages causing uneven ink flow and awkward letter construction, which are all tell-tale signs of forgery. The ticket also features several sections of paper loss which have obscured parts of the signature and appear may have been done intentionally to remove other mistakes made in the execution of the forgery.
One expert told us that the signature on the ticket looks as if someone used other Gehrig forgeries signed on baseballs as an exemplar. While PSA/DNA and Steve Grad have authenticated the ticket and encapsulated it in a plastic holder, anyone with a background in handwriting analysis can identify the numerous differences between the Heritage signature and genuine Gehrig handwriting samples from the same time period.
While Heritage appears to be offering bogus Gehrig autographs on a regular basis, they are also pushing forward with their steady flow of documents believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown. This time Ivy and Co. are offering a 1923 letter written by Boston executive Christy Mathewson to NL President John Heydler protesting a home run call in a game played against the Dodgers on July 4, 1923.
The 1923 Matty protest letter being offered by HA (left) is missing from the HOF's "Herrmann Papers" file "Folder 24" from "Box 44" which still retains an affidavit signed by Brave Fred Mitchell protesting the exact same game against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Mathewson letter which has an estimated value of “$15,000 and up” appears as lot 80059 and is just one of several documents originally housed in the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers donated in 1961 by Reds owner Powell Crosley Jr. The same Hall of Fame files still retain the letter initially protesting the game penned by Boston Brave manager Fred Mitchell sent to Heydler on July 4, 1923, and describing the same disputed home run that Mathewson documents in the July 6th letter being offered by Heritage.
Mathewson’s missive references Mitchell’s letter stating, “I am in receipt from you (a) copy of Manager Mitchell’s protest in regard to the Boston-Brooklyn Game at Brooklyn, July 4th.” How could the Matty letter addressed to the National League and referencing the same letter still found in the HOF files end up in private hands and a Heritage sale? It’s the same question that’s been asked about Chris Ivy’s inclusion of other letters originating from the Herrmann files written by Honus Wagner and Barney Dreyfus that appeared in Heritage’s last sale. Those letters join other alleged stolen documents offered by Heritage in the past including examples written by Babe Ruth and the 1915 Red Sox team, Charles Comiskey, Fred Clarke, Joe Tinker, AL President Ban Johnson, and Ed Barrow. Two others originating from the Hall were written by Miller Huggins and Hank O’Day and were sold recently at Heritage by autograph dealer Jack Smalling who claims the two letters were given to him in the 1960’s as a gift from Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen. Allen, however, had no authority to gift the documents to Smalling at the time since the documents had become the property of New York State after they were donated.
Another Mathewson protest letter believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame appeared as part of the Barry Halper Collection at Sotheby's in 1999. Halper and Jane Forbes Clark (inset) cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Hall's "Halper Gallery" in 1999. The gallery dedicated in Halper's honor no longer exists.
Another Mathewson letter from the same Herrmann Papers file and regarding the same protested game of July 4, 1923, appeared for sale as part of the Barry Halper Collection at Sotheby’s in 1999. Halper and his hand-picked consultant, Rob Lifson, included in the sale a large group of items stolen from the New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. and the Baseball Hall of Fame. All of the stolen documents were authenticated for Sotheby’s by current Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez.
One of the first public sales of a letter addressed to August Herrmann at auction occurred in May of 1991 at Richard Wolfers when Gutierrez was listed in the company’s catalog as an “auction agent” along with current Heritage employee Mark Jordan. Sources indicate that a 1926 letter written to Herrmann by John C. Hendricks regarding “being swindled by John McGraw,” was secured for auction by Gutierrez as one of Duane Garrett’s agents. File folder 19 from box 24 of the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann archive includes correspondence between Hendricks and Herrmann between 1924 to 1926 when Hendricks was the Reds manager. The letter appeared in a Wolfers catalog that advertised the September 1991 “Treasures” auction that would feature the very same bogus 1882 watch that is now appearing for sale next week at the National in Cleveland along with the stolen Mathewson letter.
The May 1991 Wolfers catalog lists as "auction agents" current Heritage employees Mark Jordan and Mike Gutierrez. That sale featured one of the first public sales of an August Herrmann letter sourced to Gutierrez (inset).
Gutierrez was also familiar with the Herrmann material having authenticated other National League protest documents for Sotheby’s in 1999 including letters by the likes of HOFers Fred Clarke, John J. McGraw, Bill Klem, Joe Tinker, John Evers and Mathewson. Other letters stolen from the Hall and sold by Halper at Sotheby’s originated from Ford Frick’s file of thank you letters from players who received lifetime passes including Jesse Burkett, George Wright, Sliding Billy Hamilton and Jimmy Collins.
Back in the late 1980s, Gutierrez became the prime suspect in an FBI investigation into the Hall of Fame thefts after he sold a stolen Babe Ruth photo to New York auctioneer Josh Evans and was further implicated after a man who accompanied him on a trip to the Hall of Fame library told investigators he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann archive and placing them in his brief case. Less than two years after that accusation, Herrmann documents began surfacing in auction sales conducted by Wolfers and Superior at a time when Gutierrez was affiliated with both companies.
Fearing backlash from current and future donors, Hall of Fame officials failed to press charges and pursue recovery and since that time the institution has failed to claim title to any of the stolen documents that have surfaced in the marketplace, mostly via sales at Heritage. Several reports of the thefts have recently been filed at the local Cooperstown Police Department but without the Hall’s own filings and cooperation, police officials can do little to recover the stolen property. Hall of Fame officials including PR rep Brad Horn and President Jeff Idelson did not respond to requests for comment on the current Mathewson offering at Heritage.
Heritage’s Sports Director, Chris Ivy, has told Hauls of Shame on numerous occasions that unless the Hall of Fame claims title to the stolen Herrmann letters they are offering for sale, the auction house will not withdraw the lot and will proceed with the sales to the general public.
UPDATE (July 30): Heritage Withdraws Bogus 1882 Watch & Super Bowl Rings From National Convention Auction; Questioned Gehrig-Day Ticket Was Purchased By HA Consignment Director Rob Rosen
Chris Ivy (left) removed a bogus 1882 Reds pocket watch and two fraudulent Super Bowl rings from HA's current auction. Heritage VP Rob Rosen (right) purchased questioned Gehrig Day ticket.
A few days after we published our initial report identifying Heritage Auction’s 1882 Cincinnati Reds Championship pocket watch as a forgery created by ex-Reds bat boy Randy Marshall, the auction house removed the fraudulent lot from its upcoming sale slated for this Saturday at The House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. Heritage estimated the watch would sell in excess of $60,000. In addition, Heritage also removed two fraudulent Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl rings attributed to an alleged practice player named Donnie Edwards. The rings dated from 1975 and 1978 were identified by Michael Borkin of Sports-Rings.com as salesman’s sample examples that had been doctored with non-official engraving. According to Borkin he informed the Heritage consignor of the issues with the two rings before he consigned the items and also informed Heritage Sports Director, Chris Ivy, of the authenticity issues after they were consigned. Ivy did not remove the rings from the sale as quickly as he withdrew the fake 1882 Reds pocket watch, but the rings vanished from the HA website without a trace earlier this week. All three counterfeit items are still featured in the Heritage Platinum Night auction catalog and were expected to realize a combined auction sales price of $150,000 to $200,000. Several sources indicate that Heritage and the consignors of all three of the fraudulent lots had reason to believe the items were not genuine, yet still placed the items in the public auction in an attempt to unload them on unwitting auction customers.
Had the three bogus items stayed in the Heritage sale the winning bidders may have been out of luck if they discovered the fraud after making an actual purchase. Heritage’s auction rules state that bidders agree to release the auction house from any liability:
“Release:43. In consideration of participation in the Auction and the placing of a bid, Bidder expressly releases Auctioneer, its officers, directors and employees, its affiliates, and its outside experts that provide second opines, from any and all claims, cause of action, chose of action, whether at law or equity or any arbitration or mediation rights existing under the rules of any professional society or affiliation based upon the assigned description, or a derivative theory, breach of warranty express or implied, representation or other matter set forth within these Terms and Conditions of Auction or otherwise. In the event of a claim, Bidder agrees that such rightsand privileges conferred therein are strictly construed as specifically declared herein; e.g.,authenticity, typographical error, etc. and are the exclusive remedy. Bidder, by non-compliance to these express terms of a granted remedy, shall waive any claim against Auctioneer.”
Despite the fact that several experts say an alleged Lou Gehrig-signed “Gehrig Day” ticket is non-genuine, Heritage has chosen not to remove that controversial lot from its current sale. Sources indicate that Heritage Vice President and consignment director, Rob Rosen, purchased the same ticket at a fraction of Heritage’s estimated value of $100,000, but it is unclear if Rosen was the actual Heritage consignor for the sale in Cleveland on Saturday. Hauls of Shame asked Rosen via email if he is the consignor of the 1939 ticket but the Heritage employee did not respond to the inquiry to deny he was the current owner of the questioned item.
The Heritage website indicates that the Gehrig ticket has a current bid of $50,000 but it is also unclear if that bid is real or an artificial “house bid” executed by Heritage or even Rosen himself. Heritage allows its employees to consign items without disclosing ownership to its customers and bidders and even allows those same employees to bid on their own items as well. Heritage states that the Gehrig ticket currently has no reserve set by its consignor and the terms and conditions further state: ”This lot is being sold without a consignor reserve. (Note: By law, consignors may still bid under certain conditions, but they are responsible for paying the full Buyer’s Premium and Seller’s Commission if they do.)” Heritage states that this practice of consignors and HA employees bidding on their own material is allowed under “Article 2 of the Texas Business and Commercial Code.”
Look out for an upcoming Hauls of Shame report which goes into more detail as to why Heritage gets away with offering and distributing so many verified and alleged fakes in the marketplace.
Heritage is still offering the Christy Mathewson protested game letter believed to have been stolen from the August Herrmann Papers archive housed in the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown. The letter has a current bid of $9,000.
UPDATE (July 31st): Alleged Lou Gehrig Signed Ticket Sells For $95,600; Experts Say Coach’s Corner Gehrig Fakes Are Better Executed Forgeries
The controversial Lou Gehrig Day signed ticket offered by Heritage Auctions earlier this evening realized a sales price of $95,600 at The House of Blues in Cleveland as the second day of the National Sports Collectors Convention came to a close. Earlier in the day Hauls of Shame asked several experts in the field for their opinion of an image of the Heritage Gehrig ticket displayed alongside two Gehrig forgeries offered by Coach’s Corner on the inside cover of an SCD issue published in 2002. It was our opinion that the Heritage example was more poorly executed than the CCSA examples.
The Heritage "Gehrig-Day" signed ticket (left) appears next to two Lou Gehrig forgeries executed on baseballs which appeared in a 2002 Coach's Corner auction.
Here’s some of the reactions:
- “All appear to be in different hands, and not Gehrig’s.”
- “The ticket signature is one of those that if it were at a CCSA auction, (collectors) would call it an obvious piece of crap. The degree of slant to the right is troublesome and the fake Coach’s Corner sigs look just as good as the ticket.”
- ”Sure looks like it could be the same forger.”
- “The Coach’s Corner autographs look better.”
- “The two Gehrig balls are signed by the same person. Although the signature on the ticket has some similarities, (it) appears most likely signed by a different hand than the ones on the balls.”
- “I wouldn’t say all three are “horrible” forgeries, just forgeries. Yes, the middle ball has a better signature. The other ball was done by the same person, not as good a signature and the ticket is the worst.”
- “If the Heritage (autograph) is good then why does Coach’s Corner get a bad rap? Same hand signed both (balls) in my opinion.”
According to these experts, it appears someone just took home a very expensive ticket that was never signed by Lou Gehrig.
(Editor’s Note: We are currently experiencing some problems with our comments section which is presently disabled. We are trying to fix the problem and will restore that feature as soon as possible.)
By Peter J. Nash
July 18, 2014
Bill Mastro leaves a Chicago courthouse after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud tied to a massive shill-bidding scheme (Chicago Tribune Photo)
When former hobby kingpin Bill Mastro appeared in a Chicago Federal courthouse last October and plead guilty to one count of mail fraud, his plea agreement included details of the auction house improprieties which contributed to his possible five-year sentence in a Federal prison. Mastro was scheduled to be sentenced last December, but papers filed in court postponed the sentencing until June when it was again pushed off until October. Mastro’s co-defendant, Mark Theotikos, was also scheduled to change his plea to guilty in June but on Wednesday his hearing was again postponed from July 28th to August 6th when he is expected to enter a guilty plea. Mastro’s other co-defendant, Doug Allen, is scheduled for trial in September.
Mastro’s plea agreement stipulates that he must cooperate with the Government in its case against his co-defendants but it also details the elaborate shill-bidding scheme that prosecutors allege Mastro and his employees engaged in from 2002 to 2009 at Mastro Auctions.
In Mastro’s plea agreement, filed on October 10, 2013, by Judge Ronald Guzman in the United States District Court of Northern Illinois, the government states that Mastro has admitted his guilt and that he and his employees Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos and others unnamed “knowingly devised and intended to devise, and participated in, a scheme and artifice to defraud the customers of Mastro Auctions, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent practices.” Mastro, as the CEO of Mastro Auctions, admits to misrepresenting and deceiving bidders and to misrepresenting his auction house as a company that “always conducted competitive auctions” and that “greater market demand existed for some items sold by the auction house than actually was the case.”
The plea agreement also alleges that Mastro’s co-defendants Allen and Theotikos and others “engaged in practices designed to protect the interests of consignors and sellers which had the effect of artificially inflating the prices paid by some bidders.” The court papers describe how Mastro and his associates “placed shill bids, meaning fictitious bids placed without the intent to win the item, which had the effect of artificially inflating the price of an item in the auction.” Mastro says that in doing so he believed that this practice “attracted more bidders” and also protected consignors items from realizing “a sales price below an item’s estimated market value.” Mastro admitted that the shill-bidding scheme “stimulated bidding and increas(ed) the number of bidders” as well as inflating prices “resulting in bidders likely paying more for an item than what they otherwise would have paid.”
Mastro’s plea agreement describes an episode that transpired in 2002 when Mastro “placed shill bids to drive up prices” on items bid on by Tom Noe, a coin dealer and Republican fundraiser from northwest Ohio. Back in 2006, Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News reported that Ohio investigators suspected Noe had made purchases at Mastro Auctions with state money and that in the course of a probe called “Coin-Gate” discovered that Mastro Auctions “may have engaged in shill bidding and other questionable practices that resulted in inflated prices and auction house commissions.” Ohio State Auditor Betty Montgomery estimated at the time that Mastro had sold Noe “at least $1.3 million worth of memorabilia” and in 2012 Noe was sentenced to 18 years in state prison for theft, money laundering and other charges.
In one specific instance noted in Mastro’s plea agreement, the government details Mastro’s shill bidding in his 2002 Spring Americana auction against Noe who had contacted Mastro “directly in order to place ceiling bids in the auctions.” In 2006, an anonymous source told the New York Daily News that “Noe had a secret account with Mastro Auctions, and the only person at Mastro Auctions allowed to conduct transactions with Noe was CEO Bill Mastro.” The Mastro plea agreement states that Noe placed “up to 100 ceiling bids through defendant depending on the auction.” Mastro then utilized “a shill account belonging to a friend of an auction house employee to drive up Individual T. N.’s ceiling bids.” Mastro’s shill bidding ultimately inflated the prices of several items Noe won including “a 1924 John W. Davis Jumbo Campaign Display Badge for $2,338″ and a “set of 1960 John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon Campaign Posters for $2,205.” The government states that the bidder would have won those auction lots for for a lesser price had Mastro not shilled him. Mastro also sent invoices and the auction lots to an associate of Noe thus creating the basis for his plea of guilty to one count of mail fraud.
Bill Mastro (inset left) plead guilty to shill bidding former Ohio Republican fundraiser and convicted felon Tom Noe (center). The plea agreement also alleges Mastro and partner Doug Allen (inset right) shill bid a customer on a rare set of Mayo football cards from the 1890s. (bottom).
The government documents show how Mastro “repeatedly shill bid” customers like Noe and also “had access to ceiling bids because of his position” and also detailed how sometimes bidders placed those ceiling bids directly with Mastro and his partner Doug Allen and how Mastro says both men would ”drive up the bids of certain bidders, by placing shill bids below the bidders’ ceiling bids.” In another specific instance the court papers state that Allen knew a certain bidder had “placed a ceiling bid of $80,000 on a Mayo football card set” and that Mastro “observed as Allen, using a paddle belonging to Owner A, placed shill bids on the Mayo Football card set knowing that his bids would not win and would trigger Individual C. L.’s ceiling bid.” The set sold in the 2006 auction for $91,535 including Mastro’s buyers premium.
In addition, the plea agreement details how Mastro masterminded the scheme by utilizing a network of shill bidders including auction house employees, friends of the auction house, the auction house’s corporate account and even an account of a member of Mastro’s own family. Mastro, the papers reveal, “concealed his participation in certain auctions and his shill bidding by using accounts other than his own” and that Mastro and his associates “placed shill bids using accounts not in their name.”
In other instances the plea describes how Mastro, Allen and Theotikos “ensured that when they placed a shill bid and that shill bid was the highest bid at the end of the auction, that item would not be purchased by the shill bidder.” Mastro and his associates “sometimes cancelled, or caused cancellation of, the sale of the item.” The government claims that this scheme allowed Mastro and his employees to “bid in the auctions without risk” and that Mastro published “false auction results.”
But the shill bidding scheme didn’t end there as the plea agreement also reveals that Mastro “knowingly permitted five consignors to place bids on the consignors’ own items, using shill bidding accounts belonging to nominees of these consignors to protect the value of those items, which had the effect of artificially inflating the sale price of those items.” The records seized in the case apparently revealed that, “Between 2002 and 2009, the five consignors placed hundreds of bids on items the consignors owned, using shill accounts.” Mastro facilitated this shill bidding option and in instances where the consignor’s shilling resulted in a winning bid, “Mastro sometimes directed auction house employees, including mail room employees, to return the auction item to a consignor, rather than delivering it to the nominee who had “won” the item.” In these cases Mastro is said to have “waived fees due to the auction house” giving consignors “an advantage over legitimate bidders because defendant enabled those consignors to bid, and shill bid, in auctions without risk.”
Bill Mastro sits at the phone banks of his "Best of Yesterday" phone auction in 1996, years before computer and online bidding became the norm in the industry.
Additionally, Mastro also violated a 2007 “Code of Conduct” established by the auction house whereby he “failed to disclose items that were owned by the auction house” and another company “Historical Collectibles” which was owned by the auction house and had its “merchandise, records and other assets” stored at the Mastro auction house. The agreement reveals that between 2008 and 2009 “Mastro knew that the auction house failed to disclose ownership of over 1,000 items owned by Historical Collectibles” and also engaged in placing “ceiling bids on several hundred items owned by Historical Collectibles that Mastro had previously owned.
The shill bidding by consignors described in Mastro’s plea agreement is the “dirty little secret” that has been kept under wraps by auctioneers and sellers extending well beyond Mastro Auctions. In September of 2007, convicted felon and ex-drug dealer Leon Luckey, also an auctioneer (Brockelman & Luckey Auctions) and moderator of the collector internet forum Net54, revealed on his forum the inner-workings of the scheme. Said Luckey, “This scenario happens in every single auction…REA, Mastro, SCP, etc. etc. It’s just done through friends bidding for other friends and, no, I have never done this on either side. I know folks that do, and have, though. So then I say, OK, then lets get it out in the open, total disclosure, but I understand some won’t agree with this mode of thinking.” Luckey also claimed to have purchased “80% to 90% of (his) best cards” from auction houses and considered Mastro executive Doug Allen a hobby mentor and friend who he defended in 2007 calling him, one of “the greatest guys in the hobby” and “a class act and honest person.”
Contrary to Luckey’s claims that he did not engage in this bidding practice, several sources allege that Luckey was a prime example of this activity and was included in the circle of friends both Mastro and Allen knew engaged in such bidding agreements with other friends and associates. Sources also indicate that since Mastro allegedly destroyed bidding records from the pre-2007 auctions, Luckey felt confident his bidding would not be recognized in the FBI investigation into Mastro. Between 2007 and 2009 Luckey vehemently defended Mastro and Allen and attacked other forum members who criticized and leveled accusations against the auction house and its principals. Luckey claimed New York Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe had “a vendetta” against Mastro and banned a forum member named Aaron Michiel for calling him “Mastro Monkey” in his online posts.
Net54 moderator Leon Luckey (left) banned a member who called him "Mastro's Monkey" for his support of Bill Mastro and Doug Allen. The collector "Aaron M." posted his reaction to Mastro's guilty plea on another forum (right).
Another member of the Net54 forum has been an outspoken critic of Mastro and Allen and has also called Luckey “Mastro Monkey,” but only jokingly. New York defense attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, well known for his defense of mobster John Gotti Jr., has seriously ridiculed Luckey in the past for his support of Mastro Auctions and after the guilty plea was entered made a very public accusation against fellow members in Luckey’s group. Said Lichtman, “I have seen some of the Mastro bidding records. And wouldn’t you know it, even some consignors shill bid their own lots. Even some people on this thread. Can you imagine that?”
After Mastro’s guilty plea Aaron Michiel took to the Vintage Non Sports Cards chat board after Mastro’s guilty plea stating that back in 2007 he “grasped the scope of (Mastro Auctions’) criminal activity” and reiterated how Luckey was “completely in Bill (Mastro) and Doug’s (Allen) back pocket and defended them at any chance.” Feeling vindicated even more Michiel referred to Luckey in another post last week writing, “The Mastro Monkey finally turned on his master.” Aaron then posted Luckey’s recent comments about Mastro’s posting on Paul Lesko’s CardBoard Connection article in which the disgraced auctioneer showed little remorse for his misdeeds. Luckey responded to that post saying he found Mastro’s statement “disgusting” and promised that he would be writing a letter to Mastro’s judge to voice his displeasure.
One thing that Leon Luckey and Aaron Michiel have in common is that both say they believe they are victims of Mastro’s shill-bidding scheme. There are scores of Mastro customers and collectors who believe they were shilled as well as others who suspect they were but just don’t know for sure. The one’s who know for sure were contacted by FBI agents in the course of the Mastro investigation and were told the details of the shill-bidding process.
Last year, Paul Lesko published two of the letters written by Mastro’s victims that were sent to Judge Ronald Guzman, but sources indicate that many other letters were sent by victims chronicling their personal stories and thoughts on the ex-hobby kingpin. Last year Hauls of Shame secured another letter written by Mastro shill-bidding victim Stephen Cummings, a forensic psychologist from Seattle, Washington. Cummings was contacted by one of Mastro’s attorneys to write a character reference letter to the Judge in support of Mastro but instead decided to write a letter he describes is “quite different from the version his attorneys had suggested.” In the letter, which was made public by the court on Wednesday, Cummings offers his personal analysis of how Mastro was “sociopathic and abused the trust of his customers.” Cummings also suggests to the Judge that Mastro “has a severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder with Antisocial Features” and that he became “addicted to money and power, and enjoyed the process of ’screwing’ unwitting customers.” Cummings also requested a refund for “22% over charges incurred during the shill bidding process.” Cummings’ letter appears in its entirety (below).
Shill-bidding victim Stephen Cummings sent this "character reference" letter to the Judge in the Mastro case.
The government’s case against Mastro to combat shill-bidding in the sports memorabilia auction industry may have prevented other auctioneers from continuing similar schemes but it is clear that shill-bidding is still a problem, especially on eBay. (If you have other letters sent to the Judge in the Mastro case, send them to: email@example.com )
By Peter J. Nash
July 11, 2014
Michael O'Keeffe of the New York Daily News (top left) published another inaccurate report; Ken Goldin (bottom left) is offering several suspect items in his Babe Ruth anniversary auction.
-The New York Daily News I-Team and Michael O’Keeffe devoted a full page of newspaper coverage to the court appearance yours truly made last week in Albany, New York. As a result of my having failed to file several NY State tax returns on time, I appeared and plead guilty to a misdemeanor for filing my 2012 state return late. My appearance was apparently big news and somehow appropriate for the sports section of the paper where Michael O’Keeffe rehashed previous reports about my legal wranglings with his personal associates– institutional thief Rob Lifson and convicted felon Robert Fraser. True to form, O’Keeffe reported information that was both false and misleading.
-O’Keeffe knew that there was no sentence of probation issued but falsely reported that I had been sentenced to 3 years probation by the court. O’Keeffe wrote, “The Albany District Attorney’s Office says that Nash will be on probation for three years…” O’Keeffe, however, was well aware from the DA’s press release that 3 years probation was only the maximum penalty that could be issued by the court for such a misdemeanor and that no sentence of probation had been ordered. Having cooperated fully with the DA’s office during the process I had also paid my back taxes and fines before my court appearance, however, O’Keeffe also falsely reported that I was “ordered to pay $13,101 in back taxes and interest.” The DA’s press release clearly stated that I had already paid that amount without any order from the court. In addition, O’Keeffe continues to inaccurately claim in his reports that I am a memorabilia dealer and also failed to contact me or my attorney for an opportunity to comment on his story. Reporting the facts from a press release is so easy even a caveman can do it. Apparently it’s not that easy for the agenda-driven Michael O’Keeffe who clearly has an ax to grind with this writer who has been highly critical of his on-going journalistic malfeasance that appears to have contributed to his own legal problems including a lawsuit filed against him by A-Rod’s lawyer Joe Tacopina. The lawsuit claims that O’Keeffe is an “unethical newspaper reporter” and that his reports about Tacopina contained “numerous factually inaccurate statements.” In addition, the suit alleges O’Keeffe was involved in a conspiracy with convicted felon Bernard Kerik to file a complaint against Tacopina so he could publish an article describing the allegations. O’Keeffe’s conduct with Tacopina is reminiscent of his inappropriate and unethical relationship with Rob Lifson’s lawyers Barry Kozyra and Mark Eberle who are alleged to have committed ethics violations in order to enhance O’Keeffe’s reports targeting this writer.
PSA/DNA says they could not authenticate the alleged Mantle signature (highlighted in red) on Denny Esken's alleged game-used glove appearing for sale at Goldin. PSA/DNA did authenticate all of the other Mantle signatures appearing on other gloves (above). Several experts told HOS that the Mantle signature on Esken's glove is bogus.
-Michael O’Keeffe also devoted space in another NYDN column to promote Goldin Auction’s sale of an alleged Mickey Mantle game-used glove owned by PSA/DNA glove authenticator Denny Esken. The article says that Esken, a known O’Keeffe source, is selling his “prized possessions” but O’Keeffe glosses over the fact that Esken has authenticated his own Mantle glove which is appearing in Ken Goldin’s Babe Ruth Anniversary Auction. According to O’Keeffe, Goldin says the glove could fetch upwards of $200,000 and has a current bid of $75,000. As chronicled in previous Hauls of Shame reports, Esken’s dubious authentications have been exposed for claiming false “photo matches” and exaggerated claims of historic game use for gloves attributed to Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams. Now, Esken is selling his own Mickey Mantle glove which he claims was used by the Mick in either 1965 or 1966 as his “last known glove used as a center fielder.” Aside from the fact it appears that Ken Goldin and Esken have failed to disclose all of the details relating to the provenance and manufacturing of the glove in the lot description, it is even more notable that the so-called experts at PSA/DNA would not authenticate the Mantle signature found on the glove. According to Goldin, “PSA/DNA has examined the glove and issued their Certificate of Authenticity. For disclosure purposes we note that PSA was unable to authenticate the signature on the glove, likely due to the fact it was signed on pre-oiled leather.” The Mantle experts we spoke with, however, were all of the opinion that the alleged signature on Esken’s glove was a forgery describing the signature as “uncharacteristic,” “super funky bad,” and “all out of whack.” Is that why PSA/DNA wouldn’t render an opinion? Could it be because Esken, himself, authenticated his own glove for the same company and his fellow authenticators won’t call the signature a forgery fearing that the value of the glove might plummet? We asked Ken Goldin what his opinion was of the Mantle signature but he did not return our calls for comment. One other expert added, “I see that they (PSA/DNA) were certain that the number 7 on the glove was penned by Mantle. They can tell that but they can’t tell if a clear Mantle signature was signed by him or not?”
This 1916-17 contract between Babe Ruth and the Red Sox was sold by Lelands in 1994 and predates the current 1918 contract being offered by Goldin as the "earliest existing Ruth contract." Goldin says the Lelands contract is missing in action.
-Goldin Auctions also has a current bid of $670,000 on what they claim is the “Earliest Existing Babe Ruth Contract” dated from the 1918 season. That seemed odd to us since Lelands sold a 1916-17 Ruth Red Sox contract back in the 1990’s with an estimated value of “$20,000-$30,000. So, when we posted that information on Twitter Goldin Auctions responded stating, “Unfortunately, this contract has been missing for three years, according to its rightful owner. Presumed lost stolen or destroyed.” We asked the auction house if there was ever a police report filed by the owner but Goldin did not respond. Lelands Chairman Josh Evans also declined comment on the whereabouts of the contract and could not recall who won the lot back in 1994. Goldin appears to think that his claim to the “earliest contract” is valid because the whereabouts of the 1916 contract are allegedly unknown but he does not mention this fact anywhere in the lot description. The only way it could be the earliest contract would be if the 1916-17 document was, in fact, destroyed. Since Goldin can’t confirm that the contract does not exist, their claim to the earliest contract is misleading to say the least. Collectors, dealers and auctioneers should keep their eyes peeled for the Bambino’s player agreement from ‘16. The 1918 contract being sold by Goldin was once part of the Barry Halper collection and part of a cache of Ruth documents he acquired in the 1980’s. Halper said he purchased the contract from someone who found the documents in a shoe-box tucked away in the attic of Jacob Ruppert’s old house, but as chronicled in our upcoming book The Madoff of Memorabilia, Halper lied about the source of the most valuable shoe-box in baseball history.
These are nine of the ten existing Babe Ruth 1914 Baltimore News rookie cards.
-Babe Ruth’s 1916 contract isn’t the only Ruthian artifact known to vanish into thin air. In the past items including his 1927 World Series ring, his 1925 separation agreement with his first wife and even his last will and testament have disappeared. The will was recovered by the New York State Attorney General’s office but others are still at large. Ken Goldin is also offering one of the rarest and most desirable of Ruth artifacts known to exist—his 1914 Baltimore News rookie card. The current bid on the card is $390,000 but the lot has not yet reached its reserve. The card is one of only ten examples known to exist with five of those copies owned by collectors Richard Masson and Corey Shanus. Reports say that there was once an eleventh card in the possession of a collector but that example is said to have been lost or accidentally destroyed. If Ruth’s 1916 contract was also destroyed, that’s well over a million bucks in Bambino artifacts that have bit the dust.
-Lelands currently has its own controversy brewing over its sale of football legend Jim Brown’s 1964 NFL Championship ring. Brown claims the ring was stolen from him but Lelands already sold the ring in a public auction in 1998. Lelands Chairman Josh Evans issued this statement for us: ”Jim Brown has known about this ring for many years as he undoubtedly knows about all the other memorabilia of his that has been unfortunately sold by his family. I showed him the ring personally at an auction preview the first time we sold it in the 1990s. I believe he was embarrassed by the big headlines it made and the friends and associates who contacted him asking how he could sell his ring as he stated. Perhaps it was easier for him to say it was stolen than to admit a harsher truth. The last thing we ever wanted to do was embarrass the greatest player in football history. But this is the profession we have chosen and these types of things have happened before and will happen again as long as memorabilia is bought and sold and loved with such passion.”
Experts say the Cobb signed ball in Goldin's current auction (top right) is a forgery. The ball is pictured above with other PSA and JSA-certed Cobb balls that experts also say are fakes. The ball highlighted in red (bottom right) is said to be authentic.
-Operation Bambino has shed some more light on Babe Ruth forgeries and the styles of particular Ruth forgers but Ty Cobb runs a close second in the hobby fraud department. Goldin is currently offering a Cobb single-signed ball that has been identified by numerous experts as a forgery of the “Georgia Peach.” The same ball sold last year at Legendary Auctions and was identified after the sale as a forgery in a Hauls of Shame report. Both PSA/DNA and JSA have a long history of authenticating Cobb fakes and you only have to view the Goldin example with other PSA and JSA-certed balls that experts say are fakes to see that the so-called gurus at PSA and JSA know as little about Cobb as they do Ruth.
By Peter J. Nash
June 18, 2014
(Scroll to Bottom for Update)
It’s been 100 years since Babe Ruth made his debut in a Major League uniform but he remains the most revered athlete in American sports history. The “Bambino” is still so popular that collectors are shelling out millions of dollars and bidding in online auctions on artifacts and autographs attributed to the man called the “Sultan of Swat.” But getting a real Babe Ruth autograph in this day and age can be a challenge considering the fraud and forgery that has infiltrated the sports memorabilia industry and even the Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, is disturbed by the volume of fakes showing up on eBay and in every major auction house in the country. Tosetti has been doing her part educating fans about the perils of collecting the Babe and in 2010 she endorsed Hauls of Shame’s “Operation Bambino” investigation which was launched to expose the Ruth forgery-rings that have become cottage industries.
The Babe’s granddaughter has even reached out to the FBI on several occasions to address the sales of forgeries attributed to her granddad and, although collectors have become more educated on how to spot Ruth fakes, law enforcement has done little to crack down on the proliferation of bad Ruth material in the marketplace. With the assistance of several talented experts, however, “Operation Bambino” has made significant strides and in this report we pinpoint and identify one specific Ruth forgery-ring that was using Mastro Auctions as their delivery man for forgeries placed on photos, books, balls, Hall of Fame ephemera and even bats.
In the 1990s, the FBI’s “Operation Bullpen” took down a large ring of Ruth forgers headed by the Marino family, but their Ruthian creations were inferior to the examples that have been ushered into the hobby via Mastro Auctions and authenticated by PSA/DNA. As Bill Mastro cooperates with the government and awaits his sentencing arising from the FBI’s Chicago-based Mastro investigation, it is possible that prosecutors could get to the bottom of the Ruth forgery epidemic with Mastro’s help pursuant to the terms of his plea agreement. In Federal Court last week, Mastro’s sentencing was postponed once again until October and, as recent news reports indicate, other auction houses like Grey Flannel are facing similar scrutiny as Mastro cooperates with the Feds.
Babe Ruth's granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti (left) has endorsed "Operation Bambino" while the FBI is currently continuing their investigation into Bill Mastro and his former auction business that distributed scores of Ruth forgeries.
In its current auction, Grey Flannel offered the work of one rogue-Ruth forger who placed phony autographs of Ruth and Lou Gehrig on a counterfeit baseball. The signatures are almost identical to forgeries exposed in the 1990’s and the ball was debunked by comparing its stamping, lacing and other characteristics to genuine AL balls from the period. In response to a Hauls of Shame report, Grey Flannel removed the fraudulent lot from its sale along with the two letters of authenticity from PSA/DNA and JSA signed by the so-called experts Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence.
The Grey Flannel debacle is reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding our last “Operation Bambino” report (Part 5) published last year when Robert Edward Auctions sold the now infamous forged Ruth photo inscribed to Pride of the Yankees star Gary Cooper. REA’s Rob Lifson sold that fake despite the fact that an autograph reference book written by Ron Keurajian specifically identified the same photo as a forgery and illustrated why.
But as reported in our last article, it has been established that both REA and JSA had direct knowledge that the “Sincerely Yours, Babe Ruth” salutation on the Cooper photograph matched another nearly identical Ruth salutation included in a Jimmy Spence-created display of 1927 Yankee cut signatures that appeared in REA’s 2008 sale. In its catalog, REA identified the Ruth signature as genuine, but the auctioneer posted an addendum later stating Spence said the signature was not real and “Secretarial.” But it wasn’t a secretarial signature, it was an outright forgery, and along with the Gary Cooper photo it would become a “Rosetta Stone” for uncovering Ruth forgeries.
In 2005, PSA placed a full-page ad in SCD featuring a forged Ruth photo accompanied by a PSA/DNA LOA signed by Joe Orlando and Steve Grad (inset). The signature matched the one that appeared on the inscribed Ruth photo to Gary Cooper first sold at Mastro in 1999 and at REA in 2013 (inset) with an LOA from ex-PSA employee Jimmy Spence (middle right).
Spence should have recognized that the forgery style mimicked another handwriting example featured in a 2004 full-page SCD ad placed by his former employer, PSA/DNA. The signature on the photo in that ad matched almost exactly the signature Spence included in his 1927 Yankee display and also mirrored the inscribed Ruth photo to Gary Cooper that first appeared with a Spence LOA in a 1999 Mastro auction. That same forgery appeared again in yet another large PSA/DNA ad to promote “Autograph Authentication and Grading” in April of 2005. By all indications PSA/DNA opined that the forgery was authentic and it was signed off in a published LOA by Steve Grad without Jimmy Spence, who had already left PSA to establish his own business, James Spence Authentication (JSA).
What is indisputable is that by 2005 PSA/DNA, Joe Orlando and Steve Grad were using a forged Babe Ruth signature in consumer advertisements offering their “expertise” and authentication services for a fee. The scenario is distinctly similar to PSA’s well documented promotion of Bill Mastro’s fraudulent and trimmed T206 Honus Wagner card that was authenticated, graded and promoted by the outfit that is a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe (CLCT) which is traded on NASDAQ. It was Bill Mastro’s concealment of his trimming of the Wagner card and his continued promotion of its high PSA-grade that contributed to the government indicting him in 2012. Similarly, it appears that Spence continues to promote items he has previously authenticated even though he now knows that they are forgeries.
The forged Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper sold at Mastro and REA (left and bottom in red) matches exactly the "Sincerely, Babe Ruth" identified by JSA as "secretarial in REA in 2008 (top in red) and the same salutation appearing on the Ruth photo used by PSA in its 2005 SCD ad (right).
The Ruth forgery saga dates back almost fifteen years when collector John Rogers posted another ad in SCD alerting hobbyists of a slew of Ruth forgeries he had purchased. Rogers noted that the signed photos he acquired exhibited “no pen pressure, mint condition black ink, no spreading of ink and no fountain pen stroke characteristics.” Rogers made his discovery when he bought one photo signed “To John, Sincerely Babe Ruth” that matched exactly the inscription on a totally different photo in his collection. Rogers said at the time, “These forgeries are not done with a forger’s pen and ink but with a high-tech laser printer.” According to Rogers the forger had replicated what he and others believed were genuine Ruth signatures on photos via the laser printer and PSA/DNA (headed by Spence at the time) certified them as genuine. After Rogers and others uncovered the fraud, the “To John” photo was deemed a forgery and by 2010 the photo was utilized by PSA/DNA in its report of the “Ten Most Dangerous Autographs” which featured Babe Ruth as the forger’s number one target. In the report, PSA posted an image of the forged Ruth photo with a caption that stated, “This Babe Ruth forgery would fool most people.”
PSA's Joe Orlando and Steve Grad published the "To John" Ruth forgery in their 2010 "Ten Most Dangerous Autographs" report which identified Babe Ruth as number one. For a genuine example, the report included the PSA Mint 10 single-signed Babe Ruth ball that would later sell for over $300,000 at Heritage Auctions (right).
As a result of our “Operation Bambino” investigation, Hauls of Shame has now identified a sizable group of other forgeries believed to be the handiwork of the same forger who produced the Babe Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper. All of these forgeries have been authenticated by PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence and the majority of the items, which include photographs, bats, balls and Hall of Fame induction covers, were sold at Mastro Auctions and continue to be sold by auctions like REA.
Author Ron Keurajian identified these forgeries in a public forum in 2012 when McFarland published his book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, but he also discussed Ruth forgeries in SCD years earlier when PSA/DNA placed ads featuring the very same forged signatures Keurajian described. Keurajian illustrated a test to check Ruth autographs by examining whether the signature had been signed in “bold up and down strokes that correlated into a signature that is large, uneven, almost whimsical.” At the time, Keurajian suggested that collectors should focus on the bottom baseline of the signature and said, “The fake ones will be level as if written on a straight line.” Keurajian was describing the work of the forger who had created the inscribed photo to Gary Cooper which he described as “too neat, too perfect.”
In the course of our investigation we have identified the handwriting styles of several Ruth forgers who have created exquisite fakes on baseballs and other mediums, but the creator of the Gary Cooper forgery is particularly noteworthy. In uncovering this style of forgery several concerned individuals, including Ron Keurajian, offered their assistance in helping us determine which other Ruth forgeries were supplied to Mastro along with the Cooper photo. As a result, we uncovered a steady stream of fakes that made their way into Mastro and MastroNet auctions in the late 1990s and early 2000s and when each of these alleged Ruth signatures was compiled and viewed collectively, the results were stunning. After viewing the montage of Ruth forgeries one of the experts we spoke with said, “There is no possible way there are this many examples perfect to one another. Ruth wouldn’t do this. You and I wouldn’t do this in our own handwriting.”
Another expert recognized several similarities shared by the examples we chose and said, “The big tell tale (sign) on most of them seems to be in the “th” in “Ruth” which makes sense (because) that’s usually where a forger screws up, at the beginning and end of the signature. Although Ruth did cross the “t” high and sometimes so high it completely missed the letter, in almost all of these it crosses in the exact same place and intersects into the “h.” Another observation made revolved around the initial curved stroke of the “u” in “Ruth.” One expert noted the prevalence of this characteristic in every example and told us, “The “u” in Ruth all curl right at or after the (capital) R. Many times Ruth would curl inside the R or not curl much at all.” Several experts also pointed out what Ron Keurajian identified in his book stating, “The baseline on each signature is very straight.” In fact, when the illustrated signatures are put to Keurajian’s “straight-line” test, they all fail miserably. All of the identified forgeries lack the bounce and “whimsical” nature of Ruth’s authentic handwriting.
Ruth Forgeries: (Left- Top to Bottom) Ruth "Sincerely" photo (PSA/DNA SCD ads); Gary Cooper Photo, (Mastro 1999; REA 2013); Cut from Spence 1927 Yankee Display, (REA 2008); Hotel Astor Ticket, (Mastro 2000); Game-Used H&B 125 bat (Mastro, 2005, Hunt 2013); 1939 HOF Induction Cover, (Mastro 1999); 1939 Induction Cover (Mastro 2000);Signed Book (Private Sale); (Right-Top to Bottom): Single-Signed "Sincerely" Ball (Mastro 1999); Signed 1938-43 HOF Plaque (REA, ); "To John" Photo, (PSA Article 2010); Pride of Yankees photo, (Mastro 2004); "Babe Ruth Story"-book, (Mastro, 2004); Babe Ruth Story book (Mastro, 1999); 1939 HOF Induction cover, (Mastro, 1999); Enlargement of "e-r-e" in "Sincerely" inscription appears as "r-r-r" in these forgeries.
Here are the alleged forgeries identified in our Operation Bambino investigation that further expose the long-standing incompetence and possible fraud of PSA/DNA and JSA. The evidence suggests that both companies continue to authenticate Ruth forgeries despite having knowledge that the items they are certifying are not genuine. It should be noted that virtually all of these Ruth forgeries entered the hobby via Mastro Auctions:
Author Ron Keurajian identified the Babe Ruth inscribed photo to Gary Cooper (top) as a forgery but it sold at Mastro Auctions for over $25,000 in 1999 and for $11,000 at REA in 2013. PSA and Jimmy Spence authenticated the photo along with a single signed baseball (bottom) that appears to have been signed by the same person who forged the Cooper photo.
1. The Forged Babe Ruth Inscription to Gary Cooper & The Babe Ruth Single-Signed “Sincerely” Baseball-
Ron Keurajian goes into detail describing these Ruth forgeries and specifically notes the Gary Cooper photo in his autograph reference book:
“One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest. He has Ruth’s hand allmost down to the fine points. Letter construction is very good but unlike a true master forger, he does not have the right speed. The forgeries are clean but methodic. The hand does not evidence a shakiness nor does it have the fast bouncy feel of a genuine Ruth. The lines are uniform and lack variant pressure. He has gone as far as to create a forged 8 x 10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper. Overall, these forgeries are very nice but they look too perfect.”
In our last “Operation Bambino” report, collector John Rogers recalled the first time he encountered the Cooper photo when it surfaced at a National Convention in the mid-1990s as part of several “too-good-to-be-true” offerings of signed materials ranging from Ruth to Walt Disney. Rogers told us, “I remember at the time someone warning me to stay away from this guy’s stuff, including the Cooper photo.”
But despite that warning, the photo sold for over $25,000 at Mastro in 1999 and again for $15,000 at Legendary in 2010 as part of Bill Mastro’s collection. When it sold in 2010 the photo came with a new LOA from JSA’s Jimmy Spence, but how could Spence have certified the Cooper inscription genuine when he had already determined the same type inscription was non-genuine two years earlier in the 2008 REA auction?
The “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” inscribed baseball also appeared in the same 1999 auction as the Cooper photograph and the similarities in the inscription and signature are remarkable. In addition, Ruth rarely ever signed baseballs using the “Sincerely” salutation. In the course of our investigation we have examined images of over one thousand alleged single-signed Ruth balls and have only been able to locate four examples signed “Sincerely.” The Cooper forger executes his “Sincerely” without distinguishing between the letters “e-r-e” and they appear to be written either “e-e-e” or “r-r-r” and are written at the same height and level unlike Ruth who almost always distinguished between those letters and fluctuated up and down and never on a straight line, as noted by Keurajian.
Mastro auctions in 1999 featured these two non-genuine 1939 HOF Induction first-day covers with almost identical Ruth forgeries.
2. The Forged 1939 HOF Induction First-Day Covers-
The Ruth signatures on these 1st Day covers are dead-giveaways that they were created by the same forger who penned the Ruth inscription to Gary Cooper. The multi-signed covers also illustrate that the forger ventured beyond Ruth and signed the names of the entire 1939 HOF induction class. These covers surfaced at the same time Jimmy Spence examined the now infamous “Honus Pocus” Honus Wagner autograph that magically appeared on a 1939 1st Day cover a few years after he had already authenticated it for Mastro when it was barely visible.
This forged 1939 HOF Induction First Day Cover was authenticated by Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA and appeared in a 2000 MastroNet auction. The lot failed to open at $3,500 suggesting collectors doubted its authenticity.
One forged First Day Cover appeared in Mastro’s April 1999 auction and sold for $8,651, but another one appeared in Mastro’s 2000 sale with a reserve of $3,500 and failed to sell. Although the signatures were nearly identical and authenticated by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA and Mike Gutierrez for MastroNet, the cover’s failure to sell suggests that Spence was aware that hobbyists viewed the item as a forgery and avoided it.
The Hotel Astor party ticket with a forged Ruth signature was sold in a 2000 Mastro auction. The tickets were described as forgeries in Ron Keurajian's 2012 book (right).
3. The Forged Babe Ruth Astor Hotel Tickets sold at Mastro in 2000-
Keurajian described these forgeries specifically in his book stating, “Another very well executed forgery can be found on Hotel Astor-Mayor’s Naval Committee ballroom tickets…..Again, very nice forgeries but too precise and too mechanical to be genuine.” One of these forged tickets appeared in Mastro Auctions’ sale in May of 2000 and sold for $1,995. All of our experts agreed that this signature was executed by the same hand that created the Gary Cooper forgery and the “secretarial” cut identified by Jimmy Spence at REA in 2008.
This photo featuring forgeries of Ruth and other HOFers attending Connie Mack's 50th anniversary in baseball was sold by Mastro in 2000 for over $16,000.
4. The Forged Connie Mack 50th Anniv. Photo Sold at Mastro in 2000-
This photograph, sold for over $16,000 in Mastro’s 2000 auction and also illustrates the forger’s skill in duplicating additional signatures including Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Eddie Collins, Frankie Frisch, George Sisler, Tris Speaker and Connie Mack. The Ruth forgery is so similar to the other fakes we identified one expert told us, “You could almost superimpose each on top of one other and they are almost dead-on.”
This PSA-authenticated forgery was used by the company in print advertisements for grading services offered to collectors. The signature ia another identical match to the forgery found on the Gary Cooper photo sold by Mastro in 1999.
5. The Forged Babe Ruth “Sincerely” Photo Portrayed In PSA/DNA Advertisements As Genuine-
PSA/DNA published this alleged signed photo of Babe Ruth as an authentic example to promote the PSA/DNA autograph grading program instituted in 2004. Ron Keurajian refers to this photo specifically as a forgery in his book: “One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest.”
The fact that a company with the resources of PSA/DNA and Collectors Universe could regularly authenticate these Ruth forgeries over the course of fifteen years and also illustrate forgeries as genuine examples in published advertisements geared towards collectors shows just how serious the forgery epidemic is in the unregulated memorabilia industry. the magnitude of the problem prompted one of our experts to call the entire TPA system a “house of cards.”
Mastro sold this photo featuring a Ruth forgery for over $8,000 in a 2004 Mastro sale.
6. The Babe Ruth Forgery On A “Pride of the Yankees” Photo Sold By Mastro in 2004-
This photograph was sold in a 2004 Mastro sale for over $8,000 despite the fact that it featured a forged Babe Ruth signature that matched exactly the scrawl found on the photo inscribed to Gary Cooper that sold for over $25,000 at Mastro Auctions in 1999. The photo also appears very similar to the laser-copy forgeries that surfaced in the hobby c. 2000.
The rare HOF plaque post card that sold at REA for over $44,000 in 2008 (left) bears a signature and inscription that appears to have been executed by the same forger who created the Gary Cooper inscription (top right) and the signed Hotel Astor ticket (middle, right).
7. The Babe Ruth Forgery On A Baseball Hall Of Fame Plaque Post-Card-
It appears that the same forger who drafted the bogus Babe Ruth-signed Astor Hotel tickets and the inscribed photograph to Gary Cooper also tried his hand on one of the scarcest mediums known that could feature a Ruth signature–an early Hall of Fame post-card plaque. The example we identified in our investigation was a rare 1938-43 style post card allegedly signed by Ruth that was the precursor to the later B&W Albertype HOF plaque postcards. The example that Hauls of Shame and other experts identified as a forgery was sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 2008 for $44,062.50. The alleged Ruth autograph was encapsulated authentic by PSA/DNA and came with a LOA from James Spence of JSA.
When the “Sincerely” inscription and Ruth signature were compared against forged examples including the Astor Hotel ticket and the Gary Cooper photograph the similarities were striking. The pen pressure, spacing, letter construction and even the ink used for the alleged Ruth inscription all suggested that the plaque post card was another well-done forgery in the same family as the examples identified in Ron Keurajian’s book. In particular, it is difficult to distinguish between the “e-r-e” letters in “Sincerely” which appear as “r-r-r,” which is another tell-tale sign of this particular forger’s work. In its auction catalog, REA and Rob Lifson described the signed plaque as “incredible” and noted it was so rare that: “Even Barry Halper was never able to locate an authentic signed sepia Hall of Fame postcard of Ruth, and in his collecting career he was able to find just about everything associated with Ruth.” It could be that Halper never acquired one because this forger’s material appears to have hit the market just as he was liquidating his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.
The signature found on this game-used Ruth bat is a dead ringer for the known forgeries circulating through the hobby since the 1990s. Mastro sold this bat for $75,000 in 2005 and Hunt Auctions sold it for the same price in 2013 although it had an estimate of $150,000-$200,000.
8. The Babe Ruth Forgery On A Game-Used Ruth Bat That Sold For $75,000 at Mastro & Hunt Auctions-
Another example of the TPA-authentication of an alleged Ruth forgery is this bat which sold at Mastro Auctions in 2005 for $72,207. The game-used Ruth bat came with LOAs from Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence of JSA certifying that the signature on the barrel of the bat was genuine. PSA’s John Taube further attested that the bat was game-used as did Troy Kinunen and Dave Bushing of MEARS who gave the bat a grade of A-8. But the signature placed on the bat appears to be another dead-ringer for the Ruth forgeries created by the same person who penned the Gary Cooper inscription.
The same bat reappeared in the Hunt Auctions sale in February of 2013 with an estimated value of “$100,000-150,000″ and an LOA from JSA certifying the signature and two other letters of authenticity from PSA/DNA and MEARS who graded the bat as an “A-9.”b Hunt described the autograph stating, “Babe Ruth fountain pen signature on reverse barrel (rating 7 to 7/8 out of 10) is not only an extremely desirable trait in a Ruth game bat but further serves to place the bat literally “in his hands.”
But based upon the signature and the traits and characteristics of the handwriting placed on the bat, it is clear that Babe Ruth never held this bat in his hands to sign it. All of the experts we consulted with opined that the Ruth signature found on the barrel of this bat is a forgery and it is strikingly similar to the handwriting on the inscribed photo to Gary Cooper.
Jimmy Spence, Steve Grad and PSA/DNA have also authenticated Ruth forgeries added to well known books like the "Babe Ruth Story" Left) and "Idol of The American Boy" by Dan Daniel (right). One forgery appeared on the same 1999 Mastro catalog page as the infamous Ruth-Gary Cooper photo.
9. The Forged “Babe Ruth Story” and “Idol of The American Boy” Books-
When the forged Ruth-inscribed photo to Gary Cooper was sold at Mastro as lot 833 in 1999, another forged item appeared as lot 836 on the same auction catalog page. That lot was an alleged signed copy of the 1948 book The Babe Ruth Story but it included a forgery that matched the work added to the Cooper photograph. The autograph was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and another forgery that was sold by Mastro in the winter of 2004 was authenticated by both Spence and Steve Grad for PSA/DNA. The forger also executed a Ruth signature on another Ruth book (sold privately) called, Babe Ruth: Idol of The American Boy. The signatures that appear in these three books are almost identical to the other forgeries attributed to the creator of the Gary Cooper photo.
John Rogers (bottom left) placed this ad in a 2001 edition of SCD to warn collectors of laser-printed Babe Ruth forgeries. Experts say the inscriptions copied were also forgeries including the "To John" Ruth photo used in PSA/DNA's 2010 Most Dangerous Autographs list.
10. The “To John” Babe Ruth Forgery Identified By John Rogers In 2001 & Later Included In PSA/DNA’s-2010 Most Dangerous Autographs” List-
In 2001, collector John Rogers took out a full page ad in SCD to warn collectors about laser-printed Ruth forgeries, but the examples that were laser copied were also forgeries believed to have been executed by the same forger who created the phony inscription on the Ruth photo to Gary Cooper. Rogers’ dilemma began when PSA/DNA authenticated an initial group of the laser-printed forgeries which prompted him to purchase an additional group of forgeries.
Sources indicate that PSA/DNA only identified the “To John” photo as a forgery because it was laser-copied and that the company believed the original inscription was authentic. Experts like Ron Keurajian, however, have identified the same inscription as a forgery penned in the same hand as the forger who created the Gary Cooper fake.
PSA/DNA published the bogus Babe Ruth "Sincerely" photo in a MastroNet catalog. The ad evidences the close relation between the auction house and the TPA's who MastroNet said offered the "best service in the autograph industry."
With all of the expensive, high-profile blunders that the TPA’s have made in the past fifteen years collectors should not be surprised that alleged gurus Spence and Grad have been fundamentally wrong on their authentications of the player who represents the backbone of the billion-dollar memorabilia industry. As this report has illustrated, both PSA/DNA and JSA have cost collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars as they have recklessly and carelessly (and some allege intentionally) authenticated Ruth forgeries that should have been easily detected by experts collecting fees from the general public for their opinions. The TPA malpractice dates back fifteen years but as illustrated by JSA and PSA/DNA’s recent authentication of a Ruth forgery on a modern replica ball, the TPA’s problems are worse than ever. If the two leading authentication companies can’t tell what a real Babe Ruth signature is how could they ever be trusted to examine other signatures that are even more difficult to decipher?
The fact that our investigation was actually bolstered by ex-PSA employee Jimmy Spence’s admission that his “Sincerely Babe Ruth” cut was non-genuine is also strong evidence suggesting that both Spence and PSA/DNA had been covering up this information for years. The reversal of Spence’s opinion on the item he authenticated and sold is further proof that JSA and PSA/DNA may have covered up the Ruth forgery scandal to protect their auction house clients who had sold the forgeries for well over a decade.
Experts say other forgers are creating Ruth fakes like the bat and index card sold by Bill Mastro in 2010 (outlined in red) and the signed photo currently being offered by Goldin Auctions (highlighted in red oval) The Goldin photo (left) contrasts a genuine example sold by Heritage (center). Mastro (inset) also owned a $222,000 authentic autographed palm-print of the Babe that is also being sold by Goldin.
The signatures illustrated in this report are only a small sample of the forgeries that have entered the marketplace as there are multiple forgers who have mastered signing Ruth’s signature. The different styles of Ruth forgeries show up in virtually every major auction and sale accompanied by LOA’s from both PSA/DNA and JSA. As noted, several alleged Ruth fakes appeared in the current Grey Flannel sale and Ken Goldin’s current “Babe Ruth Centennial Auction” includes others. One Ruth item Goldin is selling that is unquestionably authentic is the Bambino’s autographed palm-print that was created for a Baseball Magazine article in the 1920s. The relic was part of Bill Mastro’s personal collection and was featured in the book Smithsonian Baseball where he described how he displayed the print under glass in his hobby room and said, “Not a single person, including the handyman and the exterminator has ever entered that room without placing a palm atop the Bambino’s paw print.” The print, which was purchased by Mastro at the Sotheby’s Halper sale for $42,500, sold for $222,000 in Legendary’s sale of his own holdings in 2010 which also included the infamous Gary Cooper photo featuring the forged Ruth inscription. Experts say Mastro’s private stash also included other Ruth forgeries including a PSA/DNA “Gem Mint 10″- “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” index card, which sold for $4,200,and a signed Ruth store- model bat which sold for $36,000.
One of the experts we consulted with summed up this “Operation Bambino” report stating, “If the FBI digs deeper and exposes the sellers and consignors in the Mastro sales they very well could start to blow the lid off of this Ruth problem.”
If you purchased any of the items featured in this report, or if you feel you have been victimized by Mastro Auctions, PSA/DNA or JSA we suggest you contact either: the FBI offices in New York (212-384-1000/NY1@ic.fbi.gov) or Chicago (312-421-6700/Chicago@ic.fbi.gov); the office of the US Attorney handling the Mastro investigation (312-353-5300); or the chambers (312-435-5363) of Judge Ronald Guzman who is presiding over the Mastro case and the sentencing of Bill Mastro.
(All of the prior “Operation Bambino” reports can be accessed by clicking on each installment: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5)
UPDATE (July 1, 2014): Ruth Forgery Identified In Operation Bambino Surfaces In eBay Auction Of Ex-PSA Grader; FBI Aware Of Listing Ended Early By Seller Andy Madec
The Pride of the Yankees photograph featuring a Babe Ruth forgery that originally sold at Mastro Auctions in 2004 for over $8,000 appeared last week in the eBay store of ex-PSA grader Andy Madec with a price tag of $17,500. The same photo was highlighted in this report as the #6 Ruth forgery executed in the same handwriting style as the infamous Ruth fake inscribed to actor Gary Cooper that was sold twice at Mastro Auctions in 1999 and 2010 and at REA in 2013.
The bogus Babe Ruth autograph certified as genuine by PSA/DNA appeared on eBay last week but the sale was ended early yesterday by seller and former PSA grader Andy Madec.
The eBay listing illustrated the PSA/DNA letter of authenticity dated on August 3, 2005, which features an unidentified live signature and the facsimile signatures of Steve Grad, Zach Rullo, John Reznikoff, Bob Eaton and Roger Epperson. Hauls of Shame sent an inquiry to dealer Andy Madec asking when and how he acquired the photograph and whether he knew that the same photo was identified as a forgery in our current “Operation Bambino” report. Madec was hired by PSA as a grader back in 1995 shortly after he was released from a California prison after serving a sentence stemming from a statutory rape of a 14-yr old girl in 1992. Madec did not respond to our inquiry and subsequently ended the eBay listing for the bogus photograph. Sources indicate that the FBI was aware of the offering, but Madec also failed to respond to our inquiry asking whether he had been contacted by the FBI.
PSA/DNA issued this LOA certifying that the forged Babe Ruth signature on the "Pride of the Yankees" photo offered on eBay was genuine.
The bogus Ruth offering is just further proof of the blatant disregard authenticators like Steve Grad of PSA/DNA have for the general public as forgeries he and his company have authenticated continue to be distributed in the marketplace, despite the fact that he and PSA/DNA have full knowledge that the items they certified as genuine are counterfeits.
By Peter J. Nash
June 12, 2014
Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad authenticated a modern replica ball as a Ruth-Gehrig original in Richard Russek's current Grey Flannel sale.
(For UPDATES scroll to bottom)
If Grey Flannel and Rich Russek needed some additional information to pull the bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig ball appearing as a premier lot in its current “Summer Games” auction, here it is….
A Hauls of Shame reader emailed us an image of a modern replica Babe Ruth autographed baseball that was manufactured and sold by a company in Florida in the past five years and it matches exactly the Ruth signature found on the sweet spot of the Grey Flannel auction lot. It is not the exact same replica ball pictured but the quotations around “Babe” are in the exact same position as the replica as well as every single other characteristic of the alleged Ruth signatures printed on both of the replica baseballs. Of course, we already pointed out in our last report that the ball, itself, was a counterfeit, but that wasn’t enough for Russek and GF to withdraw the lot the same way they pulled a JSA authenticated program allegedly signed in 1948 by HOFer Wilbert Robinson–when he died in 1934.
The news represents a new low in third-party authentication as both PSA/DNA and JSA have been exposed again as incompetent and perhaps involved in intentionally certifying the forgery to cover-up PSA’s original error in authenticating the ball previously with a certification number of “V11120″ in the PSA/DNA database.
As reported by Hauls of Shame in our last report, the signatures replicated on the bogus baseball are forgeries created in the early 1990’s by an infamous New York forger called “Johnny Fang.” The forgeries were well known among hobbyists and dealers operating in the 1990s but despite that fact PSA/DNA and JSA still were duped and authenticated modern ball featuring facsimiles of the original Fang forgeries.
Grey Flannel's premier lot certed authentic by JSA & PSA/DNA (left) is the same as modern replica balls made featuring facsimile signatures of known forgeries (right). The Ruth signatures above are identical down to the quotes around "Babe" on each ball.
When the replica ball is illustrated next to Grey Flannel’s premier auction lot, it is abundantly clear that Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad have once again committed authentication malpractice by turning a worthless modern ball into a vintage artifact they say was signed by Yankee greats Ruth and Gehrig. Grey Flannel was looking for an opening bid of $7,500, but since Hauls of Shame published a report identifying the ball as a forgery, not one bid has been placed on the fraudulent lot.
The bogus Grey Flannel lot was certified authentic by PSA/DNA and registered in the PSA system.
The bogus baseball has been registered in the PSA/DNA system, but it’s unclear exactly when Steve Grad & Co. first authenticated the facsimile signatures of Ruth and Gehrig. Aside from the authentication of the facsimile signatures it is unclear how such a large company with access to advanced technology could not recognize that the baseball itself was counterfeit with the lacing, stamping and consistency of the surface contrasting thousands of genuine examples already authenticated by the alleged PSA/DNA experts.
Grey Flannel's premier lot failed to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $7,500.
Grey Flannel chose to keep the fraudulent lot in its “Summer Games” auction even after our report illustrated the problems with the ball’s authenticity. The fact that the ball hasn’t received an opening bid apparently hasn’t been enough for the auction company to withdraw the ball that several experts had already identified as a forgery. Now that it has been revealed that the ball is not only a forgery but a manufactured modern facsimile, its up to Grey Flannel to save face and withdraw the fraudulent lot. Collectors and Grey Flannel customers will have to ascertain whether the company’s inaction regarding the bogus Ruth-Gehrig ball is representative of bigger problems at the auction house that is reportedly under investigation for the sale and authentication of fake and misrepresented game-used memorabilia. Grey Flannel has a long history of authenticating fake game-used memorabilia dating back to their work with the Barry Halper Collection at Sotheby’s in 1999. In that sale, hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus garments were sold with Grey Flannel’s approval.
Experts have also identified Grey Flannel’s 1927 New York Yankees team-signed photo as a forgery but that lot has received sixteen bids and currently stands at $30,597. That photo was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA. Considering that Spence was just exposed authenticating a replica ball made in the past ten years as a vintage 1928 AL ball autographed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the bidders on that lot might be better off listening to the experts who have identified the photo as a “poorly executed forgery.” For more examples of JSA & PSA/DNA’s past authentication blunders you can check our “Worst 100 Authentications” report that was published last year.
We contacted the Grey Flannel offices earlier today and notified an auction representative that the 1928 Ruth Gehrig ball was bogus and manufactured in the past decade. The representative told us, “I have no idea what you are talking about, let me get someone you can talk to.” We were placed on hold and then hung up on shortly thereafter.
If readers are concerned with Grey Flannel’s offerings of fakes and frauds you can contact the Southhampton Police Department at 631-728-5000 or the New York City office of the FBI at: NY1@ic.fbi.gov
UPDATE (June 14, 2014): Grey Flannel Withdraws Phony Ruth-Gehrig Ball From Auction; Suspect 1927 Yankee Photo Identified As A Forgery By Experts Tops $30,000
Eleven days after we published our first report identifying one of Grey Flannel’s “Premier Lots” as a forgery, Richard Russek and the Westhampton, New York, auction house have removed a bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig signed baseball from its current sale. The forgery was created by using a recently manufactured replica ball which featured a facsimile of a 1990s forgery of Babe Ruth’s signature. Besides being a modern replica, the stamping, lacing and construction of the ball were dead giveaways that the sphere was a counterfeit. Since we published our first report, the ball failed to receive any bids at the reserve price of $7,500. The ball was authenticated by PSA/DNA and JSA.
JSA's Jimmy Spence authenticated this forgery of the 1928 Yankees for Mastro Auctions. Why would collectors think he's right on the current 1927 photo being offered by Grey Flannel?
While Grey Flannel pulled the bogus baseball from its sale, the auction house has still not withdrawn an alleged signed photo of the 1927 Yankees which has also been identified as a forgery by experts. That photograph has been authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA, but Spence has a well-documented history of certifying bogus Yankee team-signed items as genuine. Among others, Spence authenticated a forged photograph of the 1928 Yankees for Mastro Auctions in 1999 (see photo above). The current bid on the alleged 1927 photo is $30,597 and the auction ends on June 18th..
By Peter J. Nash
June 2, 2014
UPDATE (June 11th): Grey Flannel has not removed the bogus c.1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball from its current “Summer Games” auction. The ball has failed to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $7,500. The alleged 1927 New York Yankees signed photo, which has been identified by several experts as a forgery, is also still for sale and has a current bid of $25,286.
When contacted earlier today, the Westhampton Beach Police Department said it could not deny or confirm whether complaints had been made in regard to Grey Flannel’s offering of the bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig ball. A Police representative suggested that we make a Freedom of Information request to see if any complaints had been filed against Richard Russek and the auction house for offering the counterfeit ball.
While collectors appear to agree that the Ruth-Gehrig ball is a forgery, it is no surprise that others are still bidding on the alleged 1927 photo that experts believe is a fake. Third-party authenticators have been certifying bogus 1927 items for decades as evidenced by this 1927 forgery certified genuine by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007 when it sold for $22,318 in a Mastro auction. Like the Ruth-Gehrig ball in the current sale, this 1927 ball includes forged signatures executed on another counterfeit baseball that appears to be a cowhide baseball manufactured in the past few decades.
This 1927 Yankee fake was authenticated by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007.
(End of Update)
According to recently published news reports, Grey Flannel Auctions is the target of a grand jury and FBI probe for allegedly selling bogus and misrepresented game-used memorabilia. The auction house’s current sale suggests that the government can also add the sale of forged autographs to Grey Flannel’s list of alleged transgressions. The premier lot in its current sale is a JSA-authenticated signed photo of Babe Ruth and the 1927 Yankees, but Hauls of Shame and several noted experts in the field have identified the photograph as a poorly executed forgery that once again exposes so-called expert Jimmy Spence of JSA as either totally incompetent or complicit in the distribution of fakes into the marketplace. Another premier lot in the same auction has also been identified as a forgery by author Ron Keurajian who told us, “The Ruth/Gehrig signed baseball in the Gray Flannel Auction is, in my opinion, a forgery. The authenticity of the baseball itself is questionable and looks like a counterfeit. This item should be reported to the Westhampton Police Department for investigation.”
That being said, the Grey Flannel catalog featured yet another bogus lot with a JSA certificate of authenticity, a 1948 dinner program that Spence said was signed by HOFer Wilbert Robinson. Robinson, however, died in 1934. Grey Flannel has already removed that JSA embarrassment from the current online auction.
JSA authenticated a Wilbert Robinson signature (top right) on a 1948 dinner program (left). Robinson, however, died in 1934 and he real signature (bottom, right) would never be mistaken with the JSA-certed example.
With the heat apparently turned up on Grey Flannel’s Richard Russek, you’d think the Westhampton, New York, auction house would have also pulled the other dubious 1927 Yankee autographs from its auction after being notified by Hauls of Shame last Friday, but they didn’t. The auction house has a long-standing relationship with JSA and Jimmy Spence who has also appeared on Grey Flannel’s short-lived Discovery Channel show called All-Star Dealers. Spence’s history of authenticating fake 1927 Yankee material is well known, including his certification of a 1927 Yankee signed ball that is now widely regarded in the hobby as a forgery, but Grey Flannel still considers him an expert and includes his LOA with the premier lots in the current auction. The owner of the bogus 1927 baseball that Spence certified genuine, however, has a contrary opinion of Spence’s authentication skills. David Atkatz, of Saratoga Springs, New York, lost over $14,000 over a decade ago when he purchased his Murderers Row-signed baseball because it was accompanied by one of Spence’s letters of authenticity. Atkatz learned years later the ball was a fake.
Based on the inclusion of Grey Flannel’s premier auction lot it appears that Spence has not learned from his mistakes and is still certifying forgeries of the famous New York Yankees of 1927. In addition, both Spence and PSA/DNA have also authenticated a 1928 baseball with forged signatures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (lot #10) which appears to have been executed by the same forger who created the 1927 ball that victimized Atkatz back in 2000. When Hauls of Shame informed Atkatz of Spence’s continued certification of fakes he responded, “That Ruth/Gehrig ball was, without a doubt, done by the same guy. It’s nice to see that both PSA and JSA are authenticating his stuff—I took a $14,000 hit on that ball—maybe I’ll consign it to Grey Flannel.”
Jimmy Spence knew of the Fang forgeries but still wrote this LOA for the forged 1927 Yankee ball at Bill Mastro's offices. Spence said it was his "unwavering opinion" that the signatures were genuine..
Spence was aware of the work that this writer and renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton had done as early as 1993 to expose what became known as the “Fang forgeries,” but he continued to certify the fakes as genuine when they began showing up in Bill Mastro’s auctions in the late 1990’s. Mastro was also aware of the Fang fakes when he organized Sotheby’s sports auctions in the mid-90’s and proceeded to sell them in his own auctions as long as he could get Spence, Steve Grad or Mike Gutierrez to write LOA’s for them. At the time, authenticators like Spence and Grad were beholden to Mastro who had helped establish their livelihoods and reputations at Mastro Auctions and at PSA. While Mastro publicly lauded his experts he expressed a contrary opinion of them privately. Mastro revealed how little he respected Spence, Grad and Gutierrez in a 1994 letter to this writer in which he said, “The so-called autograph experts we have in our business today don’t know shit.”
In public Bill Mastro spoke highly of Jimmy Spence and other authenticators but in private he revealed he had little regard for their skills calling them "so called experts" and saying, "They don't know shit."
Considering that Spence and others had known about the Fang forgeries as early as 1993, it is stunning that he could still write the letter of authenticity for the ball purchased by Atkatz from Greg Bussineau at Superior Sports Auctions in 2000. Bussineau was an early PSA-dealer and the person who introduced Bill Mastro to west-coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland. For making that introduction, Bussineau also made a commission on Mastro’s $110,000 sale of the fraudulent T206 Wagner to Copeland after Mastro had trimmed it. In 1997, three years before the Superior sale of Atkatz’ fake 1927 ball, dealer and authenticator Richard Galasso identified a similar Fang- forged ‘27 Yankee ball in ads he placed in Sports Collectors Digest. But in Spence’s LOA, written at the Mastro offices in September of 1999, he opined about the other forged Yankee ball stating, “It is my unwavering opinion that the signatures are genuine.” Knowing that Spence had learned about the Fang forgeries years before he wrote the LOA for his bogus ball, Atkatz told us, “There is no excuse, then, for Spence to have authenticated Fang’s forged 1927 ball in 1999, and it is a joke that he—and PSA—are still being fooled in 2014.”
Grey Flannel's Rich Russek (left) uses Jimmy Spence (2nd from left) as an expert for his auction and defunct TV show. Spence has a long history authenticating bogus 1927 Yankee material including a forged baseball that surfaced in the 1990's (right).
But are they really being fooled? The evidence suggests they are intentionally authenticating forgeries. The alleged 1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball in the Grey Flannel sale features dark black signatures executed in what appears to be India-ink and the autographs are almost identical to the forgeries that surfaced in the early 1990’s with California Investments, Art Jaffe and Mike Gutierrez, among others. The forger’s specialty was executing pristine Ruth and Gehrig signatures on snow white non-official baseballs and the current example appears to have been created to contrast those earlier examples with a dark shellacked appearance on an official AL ball. The alleged forger, known as “Johnny Fang,” was so skilled at creating Ruth’s circa 1927 signature in quotes he may have eluded detection if it were not for mistakes he made in regard to the baseballs he used which were also counterfeits.
Lot 10 in Grey Flannel's current sale appears to be a forgery reminiscent of the Jimmy Spence and Mike Gutierrez authenticated forgeries on bats and balls that first appeared in the 1990's at California Investments (bottom) and still appear in auctions today with JSA LOAs.
Grey Flannel’s bogus Ruth and Gehrig signatures are also executed on a counterfeit baseball. When compared to authentic examples of a scarce 1928 style AL Reach ball (with an E. S. Barnard stamp as AL President), the JSA and PSA- certed ball shows significant differences. Other Ruth fakes that hit the market were signed on genuine non-official balls from the period and the most notable of those forgeries appeared in Heritage Auction Galleries’ October 2012 sale described as “the finest 1920’s single signed ball in existence.” At the time, Hauls of Shame called the ball out as a forgery but Chris Ivy of Heritage continued the sale and later reported that the ball sold for $110,000. The Heritage website, however, now shows that the ball went “unsold” suggesting that the $110,000 bid was not real as well. Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez had previously sold that same bogus Ruth ball in his own MGA auction catalog in 2004.
The Ruth forgery found on Grey Flannel's Lot 10 matches the Ruth forgery on HA's Ruth single signed ball from 2012 that was reportedly sold for $110,000. Both balls were authenticated by Steve Grad of PSA/DNA (inset).
The current Grey Flannel ball features a Ruth forgery so similar to the Ruth forgery on the Heritage ball, it looks as if the Grey Flannel ball features a stamp of the other Ruth autograph (with the quotes around “Babe” added later with a pen). Beyond those unusual similarities, the Grey Flannel baseball, itself, appears to be a phony official AL ball. The differences between the Ruth-Gehrig ball and a genuine AL ball are illustrated in detail when posted next to the example illustrated in Brandon Grunbaum’s book, The Official American League Baseball Guide. The authentic example shows key differences in the size of the characters and the placement of each line of information on the sweet spot of the ball. In addition, the laces on the ball are inconsistent in size and color with genuine examples and the bogus ball appears to be a more modern cowhide baseball that was doctored-up to appear vintage. Like many of the other Fang forgeries executed on fake baseballs, this one exhibits all of the tell-tale signs that have been exposed in the past. Further forensic testing would, no doubt, confirm that the materials used to create the forgery were not vintage from 1928.
The Grey Flannel Ruth-Gehrig signed ball appears to be a counterfeit AL Barnard ball (right). When compared with an authentic example in Brandon Grunbaum's ball guide (left) tell-tale differences in the size and placement of the Reach graphics are revealed.(Official American League Baseball Guide, Brandon Grunbaum)
Bogus baseballs and photographs featuring forgeries of the ‘27 Yanks have been surfacing with greater frequency and are all accompanied by letters of authenticity from JSA and also PSA/DNA. The most notable forgeries of late have been two alleged 1927 team signed baseballs executed in bright green ink that sold for $149,375 at Heritage Auctions in 2013 and for $53,759 at SPC Auctions in 2014. Neither of those questioned baseballs came with JSA certifications and were both authenticated by Spence’s former colleague Steve Grad, who currently appears as a so-called expert on the History Channel’s hit cable show Pawn Stars.
Two 1927 Yankee balls alleged to be forgeries were sold recently at Heritage Auction Galleries (left) and SCP Auctions (right).
Spence’s history of authenticating 1927 Yankee player autographs started when he was setting up at baseball card shows as a dealer and selling “cut-signature” forgeries from his own dealer tables. By the mid to late 1990’s Spence was placing advertisements offering for sale large framed collections of cut signatures for well-known teams in baseball history including the 1927 Yankees who were priced at $12,000 per frame in ads Spence placed in VCBC and SCD. Sources indicate that cut signatures and 3×5 cards of common players used by Spence were usually genuine, but the valuable and scarce examples of Ruth, Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Joe Giard were often non-genuine.
Jimmy Spence created and sold framed team displays with cut signatures at card shows in the 1990's and those items have re-appeared at major auctions now authenticated by JSA. In 2008, REA posted an addendum (bottom) stating that JSA claimed that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig signatures in Spence's framed creation for the 1927 Yankees were "secretarial" (top).
In fact, when some of Spence’s framed team creations appeared in an REA sale in 2008, auctioneer Rob Lifson failed to inform bidders that the items which were created and originally sold by Spence were also being authenticated by him. REA advertised the Spence creation as genuine in its catalog but later posted an “extremely important addendum” to its lot description claiming that Spence had identified the Ruth and Gehrig signatures as being “secretarial.”
Oddly enough, when Hauls of Shame and other experts recently examined the alleged Ruth secretarial signature we noticed it was a dead ringer for the forged Ruth signature appearing on a now infamous bogus photograph inscribed to Gary Cooper and another forged single-signed Ruth ball which was sold by Bill Mastro (see illustration below). In other words, REA and JSA’s determination that the signature was “secretarial” was an attempt to deceive bidders when they knew the signature was an outright forgery.
When it appeared in REA in 2008, Jimmy Spence deemed one of the Ruth signatures he included in his 1927 Yankee cut signature display as "secretarial." That signature, however, matches a Ruth forgery Spence certed for Bill Mastro (top) and another from a bogus signed photo inscribed to actor Gary Cooper (center).
All three of these Ruth forgeries have one thing in common—they were all authenticated early on in the marketplace by Jimmy Spence. Spence authenticated the forged Cooper photo for a Mastro auction in April of 1999 (lot 833) and 2010 (lot 459); the single-signed Ruth forgery for a Mastro sale in November 1998 (lot 1313) and the forgery REA identified as a “secretarial” was sold as genuine by Spence when he first created the framed piece. But how could Spence and REA justify designating the cut signature in Spence’s 1927 display a “secreterial” and later ignore evidence and opinions stated by Hauls of Shame and author Ron Keurajian calling the Ruth signature and inscription to Gary Cooper an outright forgery? If Rob Lifson and Spence knew the Ruth cut was bogus, how could they allow the forged Ruth-Cooper photo to be sold in REA’s Spring 2013 sale with a JSA LOA? Some REA bidders apparently took Keurajian’s opinion to heart and refrained from bidding as the photo only sold for $11,850 as opposed to the $15,600 it fetched in the sale of Bill Mastro’s collection at Legendary Auctions in December of 2010.
Not only was the Ruth-Cooper photo an item that federally indicted auctioneer Bill Mastro had already sold twice, it was also an item called out as a forgery at the time of the REA sale and the high bidder had to argue with REA’s Rob Lifson to retract his high bid. Not only did author Ron Keurajian go into great detail about the same photograph being a forgery in his book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, in addition to his opinion, Gary Cooper’s own daughter, Maria Cooper-Janis told Hauls of Shame that she had no recollection of such a photo ever being part of her family’s collection of Cooper memorabilia. Despite all of that evidence, Jimmy Spence stuck with his fraudulent opinion and along with REA kept a forgery alive in the marketplace. Like other disreputable auctioneers, Lifson hid behind Spence’s worthless LOA and collected $3,700 in commissions for selling the forgery.
Ex-hobby kingpin Bill Mastro (inset) sold the forged Babe Ruth-Gary Cooper photo twice with LOA's from Jimmy Spence. Author Ron Keurajian (inset center) identified the same photo as a forgery in his 2012 book (center). REA's Rob Lifson (right) sold the forgery in 2013 despite Keurajian's published opinion.
Jimmy Spence started his hobby career selling questionable Ruth, Gehrig and 1927 Yankee player autographs at card shows and now he’s the alleged authority who passes judgment on the same items and most every other signature that makes its way into auction sales. When he was selling his framed team autograph displays as “A Year To Remember” he claimed “all autographs are guaranteed authentic for life” but as David Atkatz experienced with his fake ‘27 Yankee ball, that’s one promise Spence has failed to deliver on. When Spence was wheeling and dealing autographs he claimed that he was carrying on a family tradition that started in 1938 when his grandfather “ushered fans at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.” In print ads Spence added, “Grandpa Spence’s massive collection laid the groundwork for one of baseball’s most impressive autograph collections” and according to Spence, he and his father “hawked autographs outside (Yankee) Stadium” and followed in Grandpa Spence’s footsteps. If that’s true, Grandpa Spence would likely be rolling over in his grave if he saw the Yankee forgeries that his grandson, James Spence Jr. (previously known as James Spence III) is now certifying as genuine.
Spence published ads to sell his made to order team autograph displays noting his grandfather's "massive collection" and a lifetime guarantee on the autographs he sold. In 1998 he was selling 1927 Yankee signed displays for $9,000 and today he's authenticating '27 Yankee forgeries like the current premier lot in Grey Flannel auctions (inset).
The premier lot in Grey Flannel’s current auction is one of those items. Its one of several alleged signed photographs of the 1927 Yankees that Spence has certified as genuine despite the fact that several experts have opined that the signatures appearing on the image are “poorly executed forgeries.” Grey Flannel doesn’t say too much about the photo other than stating it comes with an LOA issued by JSA and adds, “Each of these players signed on the photo where they’re standing in black fountain ink and in our opinion, rates an 8 overall with the Ruth signature being the boldest of the group.” But the evidence suggests that none of the Yankee players ever signed the photo depicting the famous Murderers Row crew.
Grey Flannel's alleged 1927 Yankees signed photo features signatures that several experts have deemed non-genuine and executed in a slow and laborious hand which is evidenced by uneven ink flow and hesitation.
When each alleged signature on the photograph is compared with authentic exemplars of each player found on genuine New York Yankee payroll checks dating from 1924 to 1930, it is clear to see that the Grey Flannel lot has major problems. In fact, upon close examination it appears that some of the existing Yankee payroll checks offered previously at auction may have been copied by the forger to create Grey Flannel’s “Premier Lot.” The handwriting exhibited on the photograph was executed in a slow and laborious hand which resulted in uneven ink flow with evidence of abrupt stops and hesitation. Grey Flannel also misidentifies the ink used on the photo as being black when it appears to be a common blue Parker ink or “Quink” ink from the 1950’s that is easily accessible and popular among forgers. In comparison, the forged signatures found on the auction photo also appear inferior to the forged examples featured on the ‘27 Yankee ball that Spence authenticated in the 1990’s.
The alleged forged signatures of the 1927 Yankees appear on the left and authentic signatures of the same players taken from NY Yankee payroll checks issued between 1924 and 1930 appear to the right. The genuine signature of Waite Hoyt is from a 1928 letter (bottom right). Experts can tell that the Grey Flannel signatures were not written in the same hand as the genuine signatures and it appears that a forger used some of the Yankee payroll checks as his guide.
Considering Spence’s history of authenticating ‘27 Yankee forgeries dating back to the 1990’s, his current authentications of both the Ruth and Gehrig signatures on a counterfeit AL ball and the forged 1927 Yankee photo illustrate the house of cards that third-party authentication has become.
The bogus Ruth Gehrig ball in the current Grey Flannel auction (top left) was created by the same forger this 1927 Yankee team ball forgery in the early 1990's (bottom). In the 1990's Jimmy Spence was a dealer and hand-wrote "Guaranteed Authentic For Life" on invoices (top right). Spence has not lived up to that motto with forged items he's certified authentic like David Atkatz' 1927 forgery (bottom).
Jimmy Spence’s well-documented incompetence and the allegations and evidence coming to light that suggest he is committing criminal acts by authenticating items he knows are bogus should bolster what sources say are on-going FBI investigations focusing on JSA business practices. Does anyone believe that Spence examined Grey Flannel’s Ruth-Gehrig ball unaware that it matched exactly the well publicized forgeries that had fooled him in the 1990’s? Did Spence not realize that the Babe Ruth “secretarial” in his 1927 team display was a dead ringer for the Gary Cooper inscribed Ruth photo he authenticated for Lifson and REA? And now that these examples have been illuminated in our column, what will Spence and the auction houses do to rectify the authentication fiasco? Last but not least, when will law enforcement sweep down on the JSA authentication juggernaut and topple Spence’s house of cards?
In addition to JSA’s authentication problems, sources indicate that the relationship between Spence and his business partner, Roy I. Weitzer, of Mendham, NJ, has deteriorated recently over a controversy arising over submitted items disappearing from the JSA main office in Parsippany, New Jersey. Sources also indicate that JSA may face further scrutiny from the authorities since both LA Weekly and the Miami Times reported last spring how the company collects cash when on the road. Reporter Jake Rossen stated in his reports, “Business is so good that they (JSA) use garbage cans to hold the cash they collect from reviews at hobby conventions.” An ex-JSA employee has also alleged that JSA has not properly reported considerable cash income collected at card shows and signing events. In a recent report Spence has claimed that JSA examines “300,000 to 350,000″ items per year.
Rich Russek (shown with ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern) is the official authenticator and appraiser for the Basketball Hall of Fame despite certifying scores of Barry Halper's fake jersey's as genuine including a 1905 John McGraw jersey worn by Yogi Berra on the cover of TSN (center).
Richard Russek and Grey Flannel did not respond to our request to explain why they are offering counterfeit memorabilia for sale and as of this morning the 1927 Yankee photo and the 1928 Ruth Gehrig ball are still part of the auction which ends on June 18th. The 1927 Yankee photo currently has a bid of $17,270 while the phony Ruth-Gehrig ball has failed to receive an opening bid at $7,500. Russek is no stranger to the sale and authentication of fake memorabilia. On his company website he states that he was chosen by Sotheby’s to authenticate the uniforms and jerseys that were included in the Barry Halper Collection auction in 1999. Russek doesn’t mention, however, that he and partner Andy Imperato authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus uniforms that were sold by Sotheby’s.
On his company website, Russek calls Barry Halper a “baseball collector extraordinaire” and includes a testimonial from Halper stating, “Nobody has studied their craft any harder than GF. They are the finest authenticator of uniforms in the hobby today. Their knowledge and integrity are indisputable.” Russek still includes the Halper quote on his website but when collector Chris Sullivan of Boston recently tried to consign a bogus $30,000 Jimmy Collins jersey that Grey Flannel authenticated, Russek responded, “We are returning to you the Collins jersey that came from the Halper auction because, as you are well aware, those 19th century jerseys are full of controversy and we would be very uncomfortable running it.”
It appears that Russek and Grey Flannel are very comfortable selling fake ‘27 Yankee photos and phony Ruth and Gehrig balls. This time it’s Grey Flannel and JSA who are full of controversy.
By Peter J. Nash
May 27, 2014
Two historic baseballs purported to have broken records as the “world’s fastest pitch” once withdrawn from a 2013 auction because of authenticity issues are now back on the market at Love of The Game Auctions in New Jersey. The auction house states that the balls alleged to have been thrown by Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller originated from the “noted collection of Barry Halper” and that the consignor purchased the pair for $4,312 in the 1999 Halper Collection auction at Sotheby’s.
The auction house currently has four bids on the lot but makes no mention that the balls had previously appeared as lot 127 in Ken Goldin’s 2013 sale and that they had been withdrawn due to their dubious Halper provenance and questions raised by a 1974 wire photo that surfaced showing Ryan holding a different ball marked “100.8.” LOTG’s Al Crisafulli says his consignor didn’t tell him about the previous withdrawal from the Goldin auction.
The alleged Ryan & Feller record "fast-balls" were removed from a Goldin Auctions sale in 2013 when their authenticity was questioned.
The auction house also failed to mention in its original lot description that the Nolan Ryan ball, even if it were authentic, is identified as being pitched at 100.8 mph on September 7, 1974, when Ryan had actually established the record over two weeks earlier at 100.9 mph on August 20, 1974. In LOTG’s lengthy write-up about the history of the two events they linked to an article published on the website efastball.com but they failed to include the information that the record was broken on August 20th and that the Guinness World-Record was established on that same date, not on September 7th.
After being contacted by Hauls of Shame, the auction house amended its lot description to indicate that the date and speed indicated on the Ryan ball corresponds with his second fastest pitch and not the recognized World Record by Guinness (although the inscription on the ball states differently). When asked about the wire photo showing Ryan holding a different ball marked “100.8″ on September 7, 1974, LOTG’s Al Crisafulli responded stating, “I think it’s entirely more likely that the ball Ryan is holding in the wire photo is a prop, as there is nothing I’ve seen to indicate that anyone is stating that said ball is THE ball Ryan threw. All that photo says, to me, is that Nolan Ryan threw a baseball 100.8 mph.”
Barry Halper's alleged "fastest ball" says Ryan broke the world record on Sept. 7, 1974, while the Guinness book of World Records shows he broke the record on Aug. 20, 1974.
The other offered baseball alleged to have been thrown by Bob Feller in 1946 at 98.6 mph has its own issues considering it features a forged Feller signature that Love of The Game describes as a “clubhouse” autograph signed on an Official American Association baseball. Feller established the record right before the start of a game against the Washington Senators and the likelihood he would have used a non-Major League ball from a league that included teams unaffiliated with Cleveland and Washington (and located hundreds of miles from Washington D.C. in the Midwest) is highly improbable. What’s even more improbable is that Bob Feller wouldn’t have signed his own record breaking baseball and that Barry Halper wouldn’t have had him sign the ball at some time after he had acquired it. Even Bob Feller’s son can’t see how the ball could have been positively authenticated without input from his late father.
When the balls were first offered at Sotheby’s in 1999 Halper and his associate, auctioneer Rob Lifson, never divulged any additional information regarding the provenance for the balls besides the say-so of Halper who claimed that they were the authentic and original record-breaking orbs. Fifteen years after that $20 million plus landmark sale, the hobby is more well informed and aware of Halper and Lifson’s sales of over two million dollars worth of fakes and fraudulent items via Sotheby’s. In the 1999 Sotheby’s sale, Richard Russek and Andy Imperato of Grey Flannel authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of counterfeit uniforms and jerseys that Halper falsely claimed came from the collection of ex-Brooklyn Dodger Ollie O’Mara as well as others including Stan Musial’s rookie jersey and Mickey Mantle’s 1956 Yankee jersey. Other fakes included Lou Gehrig’s alleged “last glove“; Ty Cobb’s dentures and Halper’s famous “500 Home Run Club signed sheet,” which Halper falsely claimed was signed in person for him by both Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.
Halper's plaque honoring him and the "Halper Gallery" was removed from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum after reports revealed items he sold to MLB were bogus including Joe Jackson's 1919 jersey (center). Halper and current HOF Chairman Jane Forbes Clark cut the ribbon opening the now defunct Halper Gallery in 1999.
Further destroying Halper’s credibility are another million dollars worth of bogus Joe Jackson and Mickey Mantle artifacts he sold MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Halper lied and claimed that he acquired Mantle’s rookie jersey from Yankee clubhouse man Pete Sheehy and that he purchased Jackson’s 1919 jersey and “Black Betsy” bat from Jackson’s widow in the 1950s when he was attending the University of Miami and pitching for Jimmie Foxx. As it turns out, Halper never even played for the Miami nine and Foxx wasn’t even on the staff at the time he attended the school. The recently well documented exposures of Halper’s large-scale fraud even prompted the Baseball Hall of Fame to remove the Barry Halper Gallery from the Cooperstown museum.
Safe to say, an auction house in 2014 can’t just offer two baseballs they claim to be record-breakers by Nolan Ryan and Bob Feller just because they originated from “noted collector” Barry Halper with only his word supporting their authenticity. Ironically, it was Bob Feller who described best how shady the hobby can be when he told the New York Daily News, “This memorabilia business is a racket. If people want to throw their money away, they should go to Las Vegas. At least in Las Vegas, you get a good meal.”
The problems with both of the alleged record-breaking balls are significant. Here’s a break down of the issues regarding the authenticity of both baseballs:
The Alleged Nolan Ryan “Fastest Pitch” Baseball:
Nolan Ryan's world record pitch of 100.9 mph was reported prominently in the national and local press after it was announced before an Angels game on Sept. 7, 1974.
1. Nolan Ryan’s alleged record-breaking ball is dated from a game in which Ryan’s fastest pitch was not delivered–on September 7, 1974. Before the game that day, scientists from Rockwell International announced that Ryan had already established the record weeks earlier against the Detroit Tigers when he threw a pitch clocked at 100.9 mph. The September 7th game was intended as a promotional opportunity for the Angels organization to have fans guess how fast Ryan could pitch and if he could break the 100.9 record established on August 20th. Ryan failed to break the record reaching the highest velocity of 100.8 MPH in the ninth inning versus the Detroit Tigers. (Despite the announcement before the game of the actual world record the Angels incorrectly identified the 100.8 pitch as a “new record” on the scoreboard. On September 16th, Sports Illustrated also misidentified the 100.8 mph pitch as the “world record.”)
The EFastball.com article that LOTG links in its lot description clearly states that the Ryan record was broken on August 20, 1974 and Ryan's top speeds per inning were posted on the stadium scoreboard at the end of the game when he failed to break his own record on Sept. 7, 1974.
2. The Halper Collection baseball was described at Sotheby’s as having been inscribed by AL umpire Bill Kunkel who worked the infield during that game. Kunkel allegedly identified the 100.8 MPH pitch as being a record breaking event, but having been on the field that day how could he make such a claim? It was announced in the stadium that 100.9 mph was the record and the Angels crowd was aware that Ryan failed to break his own record as the highest speeds were posted on the scoreboard at the end of each inning. It was also reported prominently after the game in local and national newspapers that the record of 100.9 was set weeks earlier and announced before the game played on September 7th.
But more importantly, could a professional umpire working the infield have had the opportunity to retrieve the actual baseball thrown for the 100.8 mph pitch when the speed wasn’t reported until after the game was over? The actual 100.8 mph pitch was the third ball thrown to the lead-off hitter, Bee Bee Richard, in the ninth inning. According to accounts of that game, Richard walked and the following batter hit into a double play. The next batter, popped out to the catcher to end the game. A source familiar with MLB’s video archive told us that it was likely there was no surviving video from that Angels-White Sox game in 1974 to check for foul balls hit into the crowd. It is unlikely that the 100.8 mph ball survived the entire inning but, even if it did, could Kunkel have retrieved it from Ryan’s own catcher? Wouldn’t Ryan’s catcher keep the ball or give it to Ryan himself? Could Kunkel have even known to retrieve the 100.8 mph pitch when it wasn’t announced until after the game?
On September 16, 1974 Sports Illustrated reported how “artifacts damaged by Ryan pitches (were) treasured like war souvenirs” by players. At the time, SI reported that Angels catcher Aurelio Rodriguez, wore “a twisted medallion that a Ryan fastball blasted after a mix up in signals” and that Umpire Jim Evans saved a “face mask disfigured by a deflected Ryan pitch.” While its clear that Ryan souvenirs were popular, its a logical question to ask why Bill Kunkel would have ended up with the 100.8 mph ball instead of Ryan?
Barry Halper tricked Mickey Mantle into authenticating a bogus jersey he claimed was from his rookie season. Mantle inscribed a card and the jersey itself at Halper's direction (left). Could Ump Bill Kunkel's inaccurate inscription on the alleged Ryan ball have been coached by Halper as well?
3. It also appears that the JSA and SGC-authenticated inscription written by umpire Bill Kunkel was written at a later date than the Nolan Ryan signature which exhibits all of the characteristics of a signature originally signed on the ball in the 1970s. The Kunkel writing, executed in dark unfaded marker ink, appears to have been signed more recently. It has been established that Barry Halper often asked players and officials to inscribe artifacts and write LOA’s on index cards and it has also been established that he directed players to write inscriptions for totally bogus and fabricated material. The best example of this Halper practice was his directing Mickey Mantle to authenticate what Halper claimed was his 1951 Yankee rookie road jersey with the number “6.” Although Mantle inscribed and signed a card claiming it was his actual jersey from his rookie season, the jersey, which was purchased by MLB in 1998, was uncovered as a fake and later returned to Halper despite Mantle’s Halper-coached letter of authenticity. How can anyone say definitively that Halper didn’t orchestrate a similar scenario with Kunkel? It is very possible that Kunkel kept a game-ball from that night as a souvenir, but it is highly improbable that he would have been able to procure the actual 100.8 mph pitched ball.
Nolan Ryan posed with actual game balls and "prop balls" throughout his record-breaking career.
4. Nolan Ryan was photographed on Sept. 7, 1974, holding a baseball marked “100.8″. Was that the actual baseball that broke the record? It’s clearly not the baseball offered by Halper or LOTG, but could it have also been a ball marked just for the photo opportunity? Throughout his career Ryan was photographed holding actual record-breaking balls or balls inscribed to represent the record-breaking event. But considering how the pitches were clocked and reported to the crowd only after each inning, could anyone on the field have even known which ball thrown by Ryan was actually the 100.8 mph ball? Why would anyone go to the lengths to retrieve the 100.8 mph pitch ball when it failed to break the pre-existing record? And wouldn’t Nolan Ryan be the most likely candidate to take home the “100.8″ ball if it actually existed?
These genuine baseballs from Nolan Ryan's no-hitters and milestone strikeout games are currently displayed at the Nolan Ryan Museum in Alvin, Texas. The museum does not have a baseball on display representing the Guinness World Record for "fastest pitch." (The Nolan Ryan Museum)
5. Nolan Ryan and his wife Ruth saved most all of the milestone baseballs from his MLB career and several are currently displayed by the Nolan Ryan Foundation at the Nolan Ryan Museum in Alvin, Texas. The displays do not include a ball that is identified as the one Ryan pitched when he established the Guinness World Record on August 20th or the one he pitched on September 7th. When presented with images of the Halper/LOTG baseball and the LOTG lot description, a representative from the Ryan Museum responded to the Hauls of Shame inquiry stating, “We are unable to authenticate the validity of this baseball.” Sources also indicate that Ryan never retained any souvenirs from the record-breaking “fastest pitch” events.
The Alleged Bob Feller Speed Record Baseball Thrown In 1946
Bob Feller established the record for fastest pitched ball in Washington D.C. in 1946.
1. Bob Feller’s alleged record-establishing baseball is an Official American Association ball that dates from the 1945 to 1947 era. This fact is the most problematic aspect regarding the authenticity of this ball since Bob Feller threw his 98.6 mph pitch at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. just before the start of an MLB game between the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Senators. The apparatus to measure Feller’s pitch was set up just before the game and the pitches were clocked during Feller’s warm-up for the game that day. Neither the Senators or the Indians had any affiliation with or any minor league clubs in the American Association. In fact, the teams in the American Association were located in the midwest from Columbus, Ohio all the way west to Kansas City. Why would an MLB pitcher like Feller have used an American Association ball in a promotion organized by Clark Griffith and the Senator organization in an MLB ballpark, just before an MLB game and during his warm up for that very game?
Halper's alleged Feller ball is an official American Association ball but Feller set his record in an MLB ballpark while he was warming up for a game against the Senators. Neither the Indians or the Senators had minor league clubs in the AA and the teams in that league were all located hundreds of miles away from the Washington D.C. ballpark.
2. The fact that the Bob Feller signature on the ball has been deemed non-genuine by JSA, PSA/DNA and SGC is also a significant sign that the ball may not be genuine. LOTG describes the signature as a clubhouse signature but it does not resemble Feller’s signature c.1946. The forged signature shows more characteristics of Feller’s autograph later in life making it difficult to figure out when it was actually placed on the ball. What’s even more puzzling is that Feller was easily accessible to sign items during his lifetime and he signed numerous items specially for Halper on numerous occasions including the famous “last bat” Babe Ruth used for “Babe Ruth Day” at Yankee Stadium in 1948. Feller re-acquired that bat, but not from Halper, and told Baseball Digest in 2005, “That bat is in my museum right now in Van Meter, Iowa. I got that bat back. It took a long time to get it, but I got it back. One of my teammates took it and hid it after Babe signed it, and then I bought it back from a fellow that won it in a contest after (collector) Barry Halper sold all his memorabilia.”
The fact that Halper didn’t have Feller inscribe the ball and recount his record breaking feat is also highly suspicious. It begs the question as to whether Feller would have agreed that it was actually the record-breaking ball? We contacted Bob Feller’s son, Steven Feller, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, and asked whether he knew of the Halper ball or any other 1946 record-baseball. Feller responded and said, “This is a rather fascinating “signature” ball being auctioned. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, however I wanted to speak to both of my brothers to see if they had any recollection of our Dad ever speaking of or making any reference to this baseball. Both my brothers and I had never heard any mention of it from him ever. Very interesting question as to how can it be authenticated if not from my Dad?”
The non-genuine Feller signature on the alleged record baseball (top left) is called a "clubhouse" signature by LOTG Auctions. The signature has more in common with Feller's post-2000 autograph (bottom, left) than it does with an authentic example dated in 1945 (right).
3. Barry Halper’s index cards and letters of authenticity from players regarding game used items in his collection were scattered all throughout the Halper sale at Sotheby’s in 1999 and many other Bob Feller items were accompanied with a supporting statement from Bob Feller describing the provenance of the artifact including: Lot 1102- “The Bob Feller Family Catcher’s Mitt” which came with a signed card reading: ”This is the mitt my father used to catch me when I was a kid….It was this mitt he was using when I threw a fastball in 1934 that hit him in the chest and broke three ribs-as described in TIME Magazine April 19, 1937–Bob Feller”; Lot 1395- a plaster cast of Feller’s hand inscribed, “To Barry from Bob Feller”; Lot 1396- a signed scorecard inscribed, “To Barry Halper, Best to a great pal, Bob Feller”; Lot 1468- Feller’s 1940 Double-Knit Cleveland uniform which was accompanied by a letter from Feller stating: ”To Barry, To my knowledge, this is the first double knit baseball uniform ever made and was sent to me for testing a few years before World War II….”; and Lot 1469- Feller’s “Late 1940’s Indians Warm-Up Jacket” which came with a a letter of authenticity on an index card executed by Feller.
Barry Halper had easy access to Bob Feller and Feller inscribed numerous historic items to him stating the artifact's provenance. Above is his detailed inscription to Halper on his bat which was used by Babe Ruth at his last Yankee Stadium appearance in 1948. (Bob Feller Museum)
Considering that the alleged “fastest-pitched” ball comes with no supporting documentation from Feller; has a forged Feller signature on the sweet spot; and is a non-MLB ball from the American Association, how could the ball be presented definitively as the ball Feller threw on that day in 1946? Even Halper would have questions about this ball if he were buying it in an auction based on an interview he gave to the New York Times in 2000:
”Unless you know it came from a certain player, you’re taking a risk on someone saying it came from Bob Feller and it didn’t….Wherever there is profit to be made, it promotes thievery.”
Crisafulli and LOTG don’t have much to offer in terms of additional evidence supporting that the two balls are genuine and responded to our inquiry about the Ryan ball stating, “Bill Kunkel, who passed away in early 1985, signed and inscribed this baseball as the “record-breaking” ball from the September 7 game in Anaheim. The ball was also signed by Nolan Ryan. The signatures and the Kunkel inscription has been authenticated by both Mike Root at SGC, and by Jimmy Spence, independently of one another. I submitted the ball to both of them for authentication myself. I also contacted Brandon Grunbaum, who confirmed that this style of baseball was in use in the American League in late 1974.”
In regard to the issues related to the Feller ball Al Crisafulli told us, “Why would it not be plausible that the team would have unofficial baseballs used during exhibitions and practice? The Senators played plenty of exhibitions, the Homestead Grays played at Griffith Stadium as well, and there are any number of reasons why an unofficial ball would wind up in a practice bucket in 1946.” As for the bogus Feller autograph on the ball the LOTG auctioneer said, “Not a single letter in that signature looks like it was written by Feller, or even by someone who was attempting to make it look like Feller’s. In an industry where people are making incredible forgeries of six-figure Babe Ruth balls, is it really plausible to think someone would make such a horrible forgery of someone who was still alive, who signed everything he could reach with his pen?” While Crisafulli is now adamant that the Feller signature was not signed to mimic the Hall of Famers autograph he stated the complete opposite on the LOTG blog in April when he wrote, “The adjacent panel is signed both by Feller (on the sweet spot) and catcher George Susce, both vintage signatures.” (The third-party authenticators used by LOTG say the signature of Indians coach George Susce on the ball is genuine and that now appears to be enough for LOTG to consider this ball authentic.)
In addition, Crisafulli also claims that Hauls of Shame’s concerns about these two balls are unwarranted adding, “If this ball didn’t originate with Rob Lifson and Barry Halper, this lot wouldn’t even be on your radar. There are probably pieces up for auction right now that are more worthwhile for you to write about.” Despite the evidence suggesting significant problems with both balls Crisafulli summed up his stance stating, “I’m accepting that they’re real based on the Halper provenance, the appropriate vintage of the balls, the authenticity of the signatures and inscriptions, and how the details of the story jive with those inscriptions.”
Ken Goldin (left) withdrew the suspect Ryan-Feller balls from his sale in 2013 but LOTG's Al Crisafulli (center) doesn't reveal that to his bidders in the addendum to the #1 lot in his current auction (right).
Back in 2013, a Hauls of Shame reader questioned the balls being sold by Goldin and sent us the wire photo of Ryan holding the other ball marked “100.8″ We sent the image to auctioneer Ken Goldin via email and later discussed the Halper provenance and how difficult it would have been to retrieve the 100.8 mph ball on that day in 1974. Goldin responded to our heads up saying, “If there is any question as to the legitimacy of the items themselves, I just do not sell questionable items, so I killed the item and will return to (the) consignor. There is so much great memorabilia we do not need to deal with anything even remotely questionable.”
In their update for the Feller-Ryan lot, Love of the Game admits they were wrong in identifying the ball as the actual Guinness World-Record breaker but they have chosen not to inform their customers that Ken Goldin removed the balls from his prior sale in 2013. Al Crisafulli said, “Were they removed because you showed Ken the wire photo and he didn’t want to deal with being on Haulsofshame.com over an item that would have been a minor lot in his auction? Because if that’s the case, I wouldn’t call that an authenticity issue.”
Ken Goldin did not respond to our inquiry asking him about Crisafulli’s comments and whether both auctioneers had spoken about the Halper baseballs. Crisafulli also did not answer us when we asked him if he and Goldin had spoken before we made our initial inquiry. In his most recent email to us, Crisafulli said, “Ken Goldin reached out to me this afternoon, wondering why I might be speculating on why the Feller/Ryan balls were pulled from his auction. I do not appreciate you putting words in my mouth.”
It should also be noted that Goldin has not responded to several Hauls of Shame inquiries regarding the misrepresented 1960 Ted Williams glove he sold in his last auction and allegations leveled by several sources who contacted Hauls of Shame accusing his consignor, Dr. David Pressman, of having a history of selling bogus Ted Williams items.
« Newer Posts — Older Posts »
By Peter J. Nash
May 13, 2014
A letter signed by Honus Wagner is a key piece of evidence documenting thefts from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
It’s no secret that national treasures have been smuggled out of the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame in the sleepy little Village of Cooperstown, New York. In 2001, national news outlets reported that the FBI recovered four baseballs signed by US Presidents that had been stolen from a museum display case back in 1972. The balls were inscribed by the likes of William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson and had been donated to the museum in 1968 by the family of Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.
But Johnson’s family didn’t learn about the theft until a relative named Hank Thomas showed up and requested to see the artifacts on a visit to the Hall five years later in 1977. According to Thomas, Hall officials told him they failed to report the theft or publicize it because “informing the world of the disappearance of Walter Johnson’s baseballs might only encourage further thievery and discourage donations of the memorabilia on which the Hall depended.”
But that cover-up strategy backfired on Hall officials when the institution fell victim to even greater losses in the 1980’s as a result of a large scale heist of documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library. Despite those considerable losses, however, the Hall continued its long-standing tradition of sweeping its dark secrets under the rug with the hopes that no one would ever dig deeper to uncover the scandal. The institution, now headed by Jane Forbes Clark, has thus established an internal culture of cover-ups in violation of its charter as a 501 (c) not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to preserving collections for “a global audience.” The Hall maintains a vast collection of donated materials valued at close to a billion dollars, so, some might say what’s been lost and stolen is a “mere bag o’shells,” to quote Ralph Kramden.
But reminders of the 1980s heist keep resurfacing with great frequency thanks to outfits like Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas. As one of the world’s largest auction houses Heritage says it has grossed over $918 million in sales just this year but in baseball circles they are known notoriously for the serial-selling of treasures stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition, one of Heritage’s key sports auction consignment directors, Mike Gutierrez, is even more notorious as the prime suspect for thefts from the National Baseball Library dating back to the late 1980s. Is it just a wild coincidence that so many documents apparently pilfered from the Cooperstown archives are finding their way to Heritage?
Take for instance lot number 81674 in Heritage’s current auction extravaganza which represents a key piece of evidence in documenting the thefts and laying the groundwork for an investigation that has yet to happen. It’s a 1911 letter written by Honus Wagner to National League President Thomas J. Lynch regarding a protested game between his Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. In the letter Wagner describes a play at third base and what he said at the time to an umpire named Doyle. Wagner wrote, “I also said to Doyle, “Why did you call that man out? He wasn’t out.” According to the great Wagner Doyle responded to him, “Well, he is out according to the rule in the book.”
This 1911 protested game letter written by Honus Wagner appears in the current Heritage auction and is believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library.
Heritage describes the letter in its lot description as “easily one of the finest examples extant of an early “John H. Wagner” signature” and they add, ”In this auction a lucky bidder will be able to own an early Wagner signature on a letter with baseball-related content.” Regarding that baseball content, Heritage also states, “One wonders if Wagner was able to persuade Lynch to overturn the decision.”
If Chris Ivy or Mike Gutierrez of Heritage want to learn more about that protested game and Lynch’s decision all they need to do is head to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown to view the National League’s protested game files which are part of the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers Collection. Somehow, those files contain the correspondence sent to Lynch regarding that same protested game from Pittsburgh manager Fred Clarke, Pittsburgh second baseman Bill McKechnie, Cincinnati Red Eddie Grant (the first player killed in action in WWI) and Reds manager Clark Griffith. Griffith, in his letter dated June 6, 1911, referred to the tagging of Honus Wagner and told Lynch that the Pirate protest was “made later in (the) game on hearsay.”
This letter was sent by Reds manager Clark Griffith to NL President Thomas Lynch regarding the same protested game that is also the subject of Heritage's Honus Wagner protest letter.
The protested game files in the Herrmann archive span from the years 1902 to 1926 and were microfilmed recently thanks to funding the Hall received from the Yawkey Foundation. The files include letters, telegrams, affidavits and other documents related to games under official protest by one of the National League ball clubs. Most of the protested games have separate files but there are two miscellaneous game files as well. The correspondence regarding this particular protested game between the Pirates and Reds from May, 1911, is located in the first file and includes another letter written by manager Fred Clarke. (In 2010, Heritage withdrew from an auction a similar Fred Clarke protest letter because it was identified as a document originating from the Herrmann Papers archive. Clarke wrote the letter in 1909 to NL President Harry Pulliam for a protested game against St. Louis.)
While Wagner's letter is being sold by HA, his manager's letter regarding the same protested game remains in the HOF's August Herrmann Archive.
While the protested game files include letters from team owners and managers like Fred Clarke, they also include the statements and testimony from the players involved in the actual disputed plays on the field. In Clarke’s letter he details the play and the players involved including Wagner, Bill McKechnie and Eddie Grant of the Reds.
The Herrmann Protested Game files include the statements of Bill McKechnie and Eddie Grant.
The Herrmann protested game file, of course, includes the statements of McKechnie and Grant while the statement of Honus Wagner is curiously absent. All of the letters in the possession of the National Baseball Library in regard to the Pittsburgh protest are found in “Box 44, Folder 24″ of the August Herrmann papers archive. It appears that every other letter sent to President Lynch regarding that particular protested game is present in the file except for the statements of Honus Wagner and HOF umpire Bill Klem. The Klem letter surfaced and was offered on eBay in 2011 with no mention of its provenance.
The National Baseball Library has created a finding aid for the the correspondence archive of August Herrmann (inset with Ban Johnson) which includes a box devoted to documents related to NL protested games. The Heritage Wagner letter was once found in "Folder 24" which is marked "Additional protested Games 1902-26."
What’s even more curious is that Heritage and Chris Ivy won’t say where the Wagner document came from or reveal any information related to its provenance or the consignor. Adding to the likelihood that the Heritage offering originated in the Herrmann Papers files, the Hall’s protested game files still retain at least one other Wagner protest letter describing a Bill Klem call in June of 1909. So, how did the other Wagner letter from 1911 make its way to Dallas and into the current Heritage auction?
Bill Klem's letter to the NL President regarding the same game in 1911 was offered on eBay in 2011 (left). The HOF files include another Honus Wagner letter about a Klem call in a 1909 game (center). The Hall has other letters written by Fred Clarke & Barney Dreyfus although many have been removed from the files.
The Wagner letter isn’t the only dubious protest letter in the current Heritage sale as Chris Ivy is also offering a 1924 Barney Dreyfus letter to NL President John Heydler protesting another Pirate game. In 2011 Heritage removed another Dreyfus letter sent to Heydler on August 26, 1924, regarding a protested game because it was believed to have been stolen from the Cooperstown files. The Dreyfus letter in the current Heritage sale was sent by Dreyfus on August 27, 1924. It appears that although Ivy removed the previous Dreyfus letter, the Hall of Fame’s failure to claim title has opened the door for him to actually sell the stolen protest documents.
Heritage is also offering a protest letter sent to the NL President by Barney Dreyfus in 1924 (left). The HOF files retain several Dreyfus protest letters including one written in 1911(right, NBL).
The Wagner and Dreyfus letters are the most recent in a long line of other alleged stolen documents offered by Heritage including examples written by Babe Ruth and the 1915 Red Sox team, Charles Comiskey, Fred Clarke, Joe Tinker, AL President Ban Johnson, and Ed Barrow. Two other rare documents originating from the Herrmann Papers and signed by Miller Huggins and Hank O’Day were recently consigned to Heritage by veteran autograph dealer Jack Smalling who claims the two letters were given to him in the 1960’s by Baseball Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen in consideration for work he’d assisted Allen with.
While Lee Allen had no authority to give away the documents that had been donated to the Hall by Powel Crosley Jr. in 1961, the two documents that Jack Smalling says he was given are the only two letters that have surfaced with an actual provenance story from its owner. Most all of the other letters that have surfaced have changed hands several times and some have even been traced back to Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez.
Mike Gutierrez of Heritage was the prime suspect in the 1980's HOF thefts; The Clark family, represented by Jane Clark (center) chose not to pursue prosecution or recovery; Bud Selig and MLB have done nothing to recover the missing NL documents.
Heritage’s decision to proceed with selling the stolen documents from the Herrmann archive is a product of the failure of the leadership at the Baseball Hall of Fame to claim title to the letters and pursue recovery of property owned by New York State, not the Hall of Fame. Since the 1930’s the Hall has never purchased or traded artifacts and has relied solely on the generous donations of baseball fans and players alike. All of the items housed at Cooperstown belong to the people of New York State and fall under the jurisdiction of New York’s Attorney General. Despite the fact that the protest letters were originally the property of MLB and the National League, neither Bud Selig or MLB Security have done anything to assist or compel the Hall to report the thefts to the FBI and open an official case. (According to reports in Sunday’s Newsday and on Deadspin, MLB did purchase stolen documents in the A-Rod Biogenesis case.)
Bolstered by the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaction and negligence, Heritage’s director of sports auctions, Chris Ivy, responded to our inquiry about the Wagner letter stating, “Heritage Auctions has a well-established record of cooperating with law enforcement in the rare but inevitable event that a piece consigned to auction is claimed to be owned by a party other than the consignor. None of the pieces that you list have been challenged. This bears repeating: there has been no claim made on any of these items. Heritage does not own these pieces, and our consignors have signed paperwork attesting to their own legal ownership of the material.”
Although Ivy states that his consignors claim to own the documents for sale he still offers no information whatsoever about the provenance of any of the documents appearing to have originated from the Herrmann Papers archive. The auction house rationalizes its sale of the questioned documents in a statement to directed at this writer as Ivy says, “In the absence of any challenge to these documents, Heritage has no legal right to offer this material to whatever institution you believe holds title. It’s as simple as that. Unless we are contacted by the institution or by law enforcement, there is no legal basis for challenging ownership. In the past you have falsely characterized this position as “Ivy Says HOF Negligence Justifies Sale,” but a more appropriate headline would have been “Nash Advises Illegal Seizure of Consigned Material.”
To the contrary, this writer would only advise Heritage to reject consignments of such material and to refrain from the sale of suspect or stolen items, even if the rightful owner fails to claim title. Ivy’s stance is also patently disingenuous as he surmises that the Hall’s failure to claim the letters as its own gives him the right to sell them and somehow makes the items legitimate. The evidence strongly suggests that Ivy is still selling stolen property owned by New York State.
A rare 1870 CDV of the Philadelphia A's was photographed at the HOF in 1983 (left) and then appeared in a 2012 Legendary auction (center). The Hall of Fame failed to claim title to the stolen rarity despite the fact the photo appears on SABR contact sheets and shows evidence that the accession number was erased (right).
Ivy and others in the hobby are well aware that the Hall of Fame’s negligence is so pronounced that they even failed to claim title to a rare CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics team that appeared in a Legandary Auctions sale in 2012. That same rare photo, valued at $5,000-10,000. was actually photographed inside the Hall of Fame building in 1983 as part of a Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) photo shoot conducted by Mark Rucker and John Thorn, editors of a 19th century photographic publication. Thorn saved the actual contact sheets from the photo shoot and those sheets placed the Legendary auction lot at the Hall as New York State property. The rare photo pictured on the contact sheet and on the auction website both had a unique scratch on the albumen photo paper and the reverse of the auction lot had a damaged section where the Hall’s accession number was once written and has been defaced and removed.
While the Hall of Fame has failed to address the theft issue publicly and have also failed to claim title and pursue recovery on numerous donated artifacts that have been stolen from the library, there have been some recoveries which further confirm the reality of the 1980s heist that yielded millions in material for the robber or robbers. Rare cabinet photographs of Hall of Fame pitchers Christy Mathewson and Mickey Welch were offered by Mastro and Robert Edward Auctions with tell-tale ownership marks on the backs of the cards which were recovered after we published articles on each offering. Another stolen photo was a rare $20,000 Horner cabinet of Napoleon Lajoie that was offered and withdrawn from a Heritage auction after we published an article at Deadspin. It’s not clear if that photo was returned to the Hall.
In 2012, Heritage offered a Nap Lajoie cabinet photo stolen from the HOF and the story was reported at Deadspin (left). HA employee Mike Gutierrez has been accused of swiping documents and photos from the HOF library (top right) but his boss Chris Ivy (bottom right) still offers stolen and suspected stolen HOF property because the museum does not pursue recovery.
Ironically, it was another stolen photograph of Babe Ruth that led Hall officials to suspect that current Heritage Auctions consignment director Mike Gutierrez was the culprit responsible for the 1980s thefts from the NBL. Gutierrez sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a signed Ruth photo that had the Hall’s accession number covered with white-out on its reverse. When Evans realized the photo was Hall of Fame property he informed museum officials and an investigation was opened with Gutierrez as the prime suspect. Evans says a Hall official told him, “The Ruth photo came from the Waite Hoyt file and (that) Gutierrez had recently checked out that file.”
Further scrutiny directed at Gutierrez followed during FBI and State investigations when a friend who had accompanied him on a trip to the National Baseball Library told investigators that he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann Papers archive while he was using the library’s copy machine. The witness told Hall officials and law enforcement that Gutierrez would make copies of library items and then slip original documents in between the photo copies he was making. The stacks of documents were then deposited in Gutierrez’ briefcase and the witness told hobby newsletter the Sweet Spot, “He never let that briefcase leave his side.” Another New York dealer, Richard Simon, also confirmed the existence of the eyewitness to the thefts on his website stating, “The Hall of Fame covered up the incident because they did not want adverse publicity and the dealer (Gutierrez), of course, denies any involvement. But I know of an eyewitness to this theft, and I know of three buyers of these photos who have seen the white-out on the back of the photo.”
Two years ago, ex-Hall library employee, Bill Deane, told Hauls of Shame he witnessed Gutierrez researching at the NBL on numerous occasions in the late 1980s and also said that Gutierrez was unsupervised with total access to the library collections. Deane said the library had no security and also confirmed that Gutierrez was the “prime suspect” in the Hall of Fame heist when Hall officials decided not to pursue prosecution because of fears of negative press and a backlash from past and future donors. Deane also confirmed that Gutierrez was barred from entry to the Hall after the Ruth incident and added, “They said he wasn’t allowed here, he was blacklisted from the National Baseball Library.” Another ex-Hall official confirmed Gutierrez’ ban from the library and also said that a list of banned library thieves was passed along to Jim Gates when he assumed the position as the Hall’s head librarian.
Hauls of Shame contacted the Hall of Fame’s President, Jeff Idelson, and his Director of Communications, Brad Horn, for comment but neither responded to our inquiry. Jane Forbes Clark did not return calls made to her Clark Estates office in Rockefeller Center in New York City and the Wagner letter has been reported to the local Cooperstown Police Department that has filed official reports previously on other items offered by Heritage. Cooperstown Police Chief Mike Covert was unavailable for comment.
With all of the circumstantial evidence stacked against Gutierrez, his boss, Chris Ivy, still offers no answers related to the provenance of any of the suspect items in his sales like the Wagner and Dreyfus protest letters. He offers no explanation as to why the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann protest file has virtually every other letter and statement related to that game against the Reds and Pirates in 1911 except for lot 81674, the Honus Wagner letter. According to Ivy, a signed statement from the owner of that item simply stating he has clear title to the stolen letter is all that he and his father Steve Ivy require. Heritage is no stranger to getting caught selling stolen materials ranging from a Green Jacket from the Masters to an actual Tyrannosaurus Bataan dinosaur skeleton.
As evidenced in our last report, Ivy and Heritage also have no problem offering fake and fraudulent items like the 1912 John Ward letter that is still currently for sale despite being identified as non-genuine in a hobby reference guide written by Ron Keurajian. When offering fakes, Ivy and Heritage simply stand behind the fraudulent LOA’s issued by JSA and PSA/DNA, the authentication companies infamous for certifying forgeries like Heritage’s $149,000 1927 Yankees signed ball signed in green ink and a 1939 Lou Gehrig single signed baseball advertised as one of the last he ever signed.
As for the genuine but stolen Honus Wagner letter, the bid currently stands at $1,400. Where it ends up only Chris Ivy and the winning bidder will know. A return to Cooperstown seems unlikely.