By Peter J. Nash
November 12, 2014
Hot on the heels of the recent auction withdrawal of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirate photo that was stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, another vintage image of the 1921 Red Sox, was removed from another auction after it was identified by Hauls of Shame as also having been stolen from the archives of the Baseball shrine.
The photo was once part of the collection of the late artist, Richard Merkin, and was being offered by Hake’s Americana in York, Pennsylvania. Like other rare and valuable photographs stolen from the Hall featuring the portraits of Christy Mathewson, Nap Lajoie, Mickey Welch and others, this photo features Hall of Famers Hugh Duffy and Herb Pennock and also shows evidence of Hall of Fame library ownership identifications being obscured to conceal its Cooperstown provenance. But unlike other sports auction houses like Heritage and Huggins & Scott which have refused to withdraw stolen item from sales, Hake’s President, Alex Winter, immediately removed the photo from the sale when informed that the library accession number was visible on the reverse of the photo. Said Winter, “The item has been removed. We will make sure the photo finds its way back to where it belongs.” Winter said he would contact the Cooperstown Police Department to inquire how the photo can be returned to the Hall. When similar stolen items have appeared at auction, however, the Hall of Fame has failed to claim title or attempt to recover the artifacts. One case in particular involved a a rare 1870 CDV photograph of the Philadelphia Athletics that was sold by Legendary Auctions despite photographic evidence that documented the item was once part of the Hall’s collection.
The attempt to conceal the fact that the 1921 Red Sox photo was stolen from the library was unsuccessful as the library accession number is still clearly visible in black ink on the reverse of the photo. That number, which reads: “BL-11,608-89″ was transformed into “BOSTON” with a blue sharpie, but is still clearly visible. The number represents the 11,608th item donated to the National Baseball Library in 1989. The photo also shows evidence of the handwritten letters “PD” in the upper right corner which is written on photos at the library which are in the public domain. Former Hall of Fame librarian, Tom Heitz, did not respond to our inquiry asking if he could identify the handwriting of the accession number.
The back of the 1921 Red Sox photo being offered by Hake's reveals two sections that have notations obscured by modern sharpie writing. When magnified it is also revealed that these notations were added to conceal the Hall of Fame accession number of the photo which reads: "BL-11,608-89." The number indicates this was the 11,608th item donated to the institution in 1989 and is New York State property.
The appearance of the stolen photo at auction is just further evidence of the multi-million dollar thefts that occurred at the Cooperstown institution in the 1980s. As scores of reports published by Hauls of Shame have proven since 2011, the objects stolen from the Hall and listed on our “HOF Hot 100 list” have been scattered all over the hobby and have ended up in the hands of many unsuspecting parties. This particular photograph was owned by the late artist Richard Merkin.
The handwritten HOF accession number covered by the blue sharpie ink on the stolen photo (top left) matches another accession number on a photo still in the HOF collection identified as: "BL-5160-88." An accession number appears on a Hugh Duffy cabinet photo donated in 1956 (top right) and another from 1986 (bottom right). The "PD" notations to the right signify that the HOF considers them "public domain."
Last month, when a 909 Pittsburgh Pirate photo appeared in a Huggins & Scott auction, Hauls of Shame alerted the Cooperstown Police Department and also submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. The Cooperstown Police are currently investigating the situation and sources indicate they have been in contact with Huggins & Scott Auctions, the consignor of the photo and officials from the Hall of Fame. Hall officials, however, have refused to comply with our FOIA request which they were supposed to respond to within five days of receipt under New York State law. All of the artifacts in the Hall’s collection are owned by New York State, not the Hall of Fame, and it is our contention that all documentation and information related to donated artifacts is subject to FOIA guidelines.
Red Sox exec Bill James was critical of HOF leadership in his 1994 book (inset). Current HOF leadership under Jane Clark and Jeff Idelson is refusing to honor FOIA requests made by Hauls of Shame.
Bill James, in his 1994 book, Whatever Happened To The Hall Of Fame, said as much when he wrote:
“Before anything else, the Hall of Fame belongs to the State of New York. There are state regulations regarding the operation of a museum and the care of its artifacts, and these regulations have the force of law. The state is the ultimate owner of all of the Hall of Fame’s property. If you give something to the Hall of Fame, you are giving it to the State of New York; if you were to steal something from the Hall of Fame, you would be stealing it from the State of New York.”
James, who is currently an executive with the Boston Red Sox, also wrote about a 1980s Hall of Fame scandal involving the sale of donated artifacts by, Joe Reichler, an assistant to then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. When James wrote his book, however, he was unaware of the massive thefts and only had knowledge of a small selection of missing items involved in the Reichler scandal. All of those artifacts, mostly World Series programs, were ultimately recovered by the Hall after New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams sent a letter to Bowie Kuhn.
The current Hall President, Jeff Idelson, and Chairman, Janes Forbes Clark, appear to be at odds with James’ statement regarding New York State laws, and sources familiar with the inner workings of the institution have confirmed that the Hall’s stonewalling of our request is directly related to the continued cover-up of the thefts which expose the gross negligence related to the institution’s care of artifacts and even greater negligence in their failure to actively pursue recovery and claim title to stolen items that have surfaced in public auctions and in private collections.
L to R: Self-Portrait of artist Richard Merkin; 1993 "The New Yorker" cover by Merkin; Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album featuring Merkin (inset and in red).
Throughout the past few decades the materials stolen from the Hall of Fame have made their way into the unlikeliest of places and the inclusion of the 1921 Red Sox team photo in the collection of the late artist Richard Merkin is a testament to this. Merkin was a noted artist with works in the collections of the Whitney Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art and his illustration work also graced the covers of magazines including The New Yorker. Merkin also served as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair Magazine and was also a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. In his 2009 New York Times obituary writer Tom Wolfe said, “He was the greatest of that breed, the Artist Dandy, since Sargent, Whistler and Dali. Like Dali, he had one of the few remaining Great Mustaches in the art world.”
Merkin was also a prominent collector of baseball artifacts and memorabilia with a particular focus on Cuban baseball and the Negro Leagues and throughout his career Merkin created many paintings of baseball legends ranging from 19th and early 20th century baseball pioneers such as Harry Wright and Rube Foster. After Merkin passed away in 2009, his baseball collection began to appear for sale at Hake’s Americana which was founded by Merkin’s friend Theodore Hake. The auctioneer has been offering Merkin’s significant baseball holdings (and other treasures) in sales that have spanned over the past few years. Merkin also had a notable collection of erotica which was the subject of his 1979 book Velvet Eden: The Richard Merkin Collection of Erotic Photography and he is also well known for his appearance on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album released in 1967.
Hake’s estimated that the value of Merkin’s 1921 Red Sox photo was about $400 but several experts we spoke with believed the photo was worth over $1,000 if it had clear title. Baseball Hall of Fame and President Jeff Idelson did not respond to our inquiry as to whether they will attempt to recover the photograph from Hake’s and failed to identify who donated the Red Sox photo back in 1989. The Cooperstown Police Department, which is currently investigating the theft of the 1909 Pirate photo withdrawn from a Huggins & Scott sale, became aware of the Hake’s offering and its withdrawal after they were contacted by Hauls of Shame.
By Peter J. Nash
November 6, 2014
Last spring, Heritage Auctions sold a bogus letter alleged to have been written by 19th century Hall of Famer John M. Ward. The sale of the letter was a prime example of the auction house’s deceptive practices and its marketing of non-genuine autographed materials. Despite the fact that the Ward autograph was identified as a secretarial signature in a hobby reference book and in several reports published by Hauls of Shame, Heritage continued with the sale of the bogus document for close to $9,000 even though the letter was only worth a few hundred bucks.
Heritage continues its tradition of offering items that experts have questioned as fakes in its current sale which includes signed baseballs purported to bear the signatures of Honus Wagner, Dizzy Dean, Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, Nap Lajoie and others. Our reports over the past few years have identified similar Heritage offerings which experts have opined were fakes but were accompanied by third-party authentication company certificates claiming they were genuine. As the world’s largest auctioneer of collectibles, Heritage moves an enormous amount of vintage material through the hobby but it appears that they offer more fakes than most of their competitors. The signed baseballs in the current sale are so substandard that the experts were aghast that the items were actually hitting the market with LOAs from PSA/DNA and their alleged expert Steve Grad.
So, why does Heritage attract so much material that experts we spoke with claim are forgeries and how do they get these questionable items authenticated?
Experts are of the opinion that the signatures on these baseballs being sold by Heritage are not genuine (or have been enhanced) but they have all been authenticated by PSA/DNAs alleged expert Steve Grad who also appears with Rick Harrison as an expert on Pawn Stars.
To answer that question one has to look no further than Heritage’s two in-house consignment directors, Mark Jordan and Mike Gutierrez who, before they had an affiliation with the auction giant, were the most prolific sellers and authenticators of forged materials in the hobby.
In addition to being the prime suspect in the massive thefts of genuine signed documents from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Mike Gutierrez has also been linked to the authentications of numerous groups of fraudulent materials including scores of Babe Ruth secretarial signatures, the infamous Ty Cobb forgeries created by Al Stump, items attributed to the 90s forger known as Johnny Fang, numerous problematic items sold by Richard Wolfers Auctions and MastroNet as well as the sale of numerous forgeries to private collectors who returned materials to him and signed non-disclosure agreements in lieu of receiving refunds. From the late 1980s through the late 1990s Gutierrez was considered one of the leading authenticators of baseball autographs and was hired by numerous auction houses (including Sotheby’s) for his alleged expertise. Along with Jimmy Spence, Gutierrez was also responsible for authenticating many of the Babe Ruth forgeries that entered the marketplace through Mastro Auctions and have now been identified as the work of a forger who created the now infamous Ruth inscribed photograph to actor Gary Cooper.
Like Gutierrez, Mark Jordan, was also once considered a leading authentication figure in the hobby through the 1990s but fell out of favor with the hobby powers that be after he was linked to the authentications of hundreds of big ticket forgeries that were offered and sold by Richard Wolfers Auctions and Sports Heroes Inc. in the 1990s. Jordan authenticated dozens of forged single-signed baseballs for Sports Heroes and Wolfers in 1992 and some of those same baseballs are the subject of a current lawsuit filed against Mastro Auctions and Mike Gutierrez in Chicago that alleges Gutierrez authenticated forged baseballs for Bill Mastro and his former auction business. Jordan authenticated an entire collection of single signed baseballs around the same time that a forged letter from Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey surfaced stating that he had once owned a collection of rare signed baseballs from the likes of Jack Chesbro, John Ward, Cap Anson, Rube Waddell and others. (The current HA sale features a single-signed ball of Branch Rickey (shown above) that was part of Jordan’s problematic 1992 authentication for Jerry Zuckerman of Sports Heroes and it was also offered as Lot 56 in Wolfers’ 1992 “Treasures” auction). Jordan also authenticated dozens of other items alleged to originate from the estate of sportswriter Fred Lieb including alleged “game-used” baseball gloves and baseballs bearing forgeries of Cy Young, Josh Gibson, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson.
HA consignment director Mark Jordan was once the leading authenticator in the hobby but he certified hundreds of forgeries that appeared in auctions during the 1990s including his certification of over 100 single signed balls including forgeries of Jack Chesbro, Sam Thompson, Tim Keefe, Josh Gibson and Amos Rusie (all inset).
Gutierrez and Jordan joined the staff at Heritage Auctions in 2006 as consignment directors and it is no surprise that they are responsible for referrals from their old customers and for the procurement of materials they have either sold or authenticated in the course of their hobby careers.
While Gutierrez and Jordan were once the final authority for many auctioneers in regard to the authentication of autographs, the formation of PSA/DNA in 1999 paved the way for the emergence of one of Jordan’s ex-employees at Mark Jordan Inc., Jimmy Spence Jr., who worked for PSA and later established his own authentication company now known as JSA.
Mark Jordan (inset) was the principal authenticator for Richard Wolfers Auctions in the 1990s and he certified many forgeries including baseball gloves bearing forgeries of Ty Cobb (top) and Josh Gibson (bottom).
Gutierrez has also worked for PSA/DNA in the past and is currently listed as an expert consultant for James Spence Authentication (JSA). Although Gutierrez and Jordan are employees of Heritage working under the auspices of HA sports director, Chris Ivy, the auction house relies primarily on the authentication services of PSA/DNAs lead authenticator, Steve Grad. According to his Twitter account, Grad spent September 16th and 17th authenticating materials slated for Heritage’s current sale. According to several sources, it was on this authentication trip to Dallas that Grad authenticated the questionable materials for the company that is considered one of PSA/DNAs biggest hobby clients. One source familiar with the autograph examination process told us, “There’s no way you can properly examine that volume of material in that short a period of time with just one guy.”
Heritage and Chris Ivy, however, appear to be comfortable with Grad’s solo skills as an authenticator despite his very public authentication mishaps which we’ve chronicled in detail in our Worst 100 report of 2013. They also appear to support Grad despite the revelations that he has misrepresented and lied about his education and also perjured himself in court ordered depositions in which he stated he was a college graduate when he has never graduated from any college or university.
Steve Grad (center) tweeted how he spent just two days authenticating items for Chris Ivy (right) and Heritage's current sale.
PSA/DNA is a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe (CLCT) and Grad has clearly violated the company’s “Code of Business and Ethical Conduct” which is published on the company website. Curiously, it appears that Collectors Universe has taken no action against Grad for his perjury under oath but that might be explained by language included in the company’s annual report for 2014 which was released to shareholders last month. In that report the company states they are “dependent on (their) collectible experts” and state:
“There are a limited number of individuals who have the expertise to authenticate and grade collectibles, and the competition for available collectible experts is intense. Accordingly, our business and our growth initiatives are heavily dependent on our ability to (i) retain our existing collectibles experts, who have developed relatively unique skills and enjoy a reputation for being experts within the collectibles markets, and (ii) to implement personal programs that will enable us to add collectibles experts as necessary…..”
Collectors Universe also states in the report they are very concerned that “Some of our experts could leave our company to join a competitor or start a competing business.” That could explain why Grad has not been terminated by the company for his violations of the code of conduct, however, Grad’s authentication malpractice and his spectacular mistakes appear to have been overlooked by the company as well. In the annual report, it appears CU should be concerned about damage to the company reputation resulting from Grad’s mis-authentications as they state: “Failures and errors in authentication or grading processes, such as inconsistent application of grading standards or incidents that put the integrity of those processes into question, could significantly impair our reputation in the marketplace which, in turn, could lead to a loss of customer confidence and a decrease in the demand for our services…”
It appears, however, that CU and PSA are flourishing despite Grad’s incompetence as the company just announced that its trading card and autograph authentication revenues are already up 8% for the first quarter. But although the cash appears to be pouring into the company coffers, the 2014 annual report released in October includes a few points of concern for PSA/DNA as 2015 approaches. Collectors Universe tells shareholders that there is no current litigation that would adversely affect the company’s financial standing but sources indicate that PSA and CU could be dragged into the class action lawsuit filed against PSA authenticator Bob Eaton and his company RR Auctions.
The class action suit vs RR Auctions deals with signed Rock n Roll items that were rejected by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA. PSA rejected a signed Eagles guitar (left) and in a deposition an attorney for RR and PSA said that PSA could reverse their opinion and make the item genuine (inset).
This week the plaintiff in that lawsuit, Michael Johnson, posted on the lawsuit website his own deposition testimony and his exchanges with RR’s attorney Suzanne Storm. Storm and her lawfirm Attlesey & Storm, interestingly enough, also represent PSA and PSA/DNA and in the course of her questioning of Johnson revealed that a group of autographed items rejected by PSA could actually be reversed by the company and now be deemed genuine. Johnson’s claims involve his purchase of about twenty signed entertainment items and record albums from Eaton and RR that were all subsequently rejected by Grad and PSA/DNA as non-genuine.
In the deposition exchange posted on the website, Storm suggests that PSA could change their opinion on all of Johnson’s items that were deemed non-genuine and Johnson asks, “If PSA/DNA was willing to issue new certificates of authenticity? So, they’re going to change the old stuff that was bad, now they’re going to issue new ones and say they’re good now?” Storm answered him and said, “Correct.”
The exchange between the PSA/RR lawyer and the plaintiff illustrates how much power the TPAs like Grad and PSA/DNA hold as they can render opinions that can make items either extremely valuable or worthless simply by issuing their letter of authenticity bearing the facsimile signatures of Grad, Eaton and other PSA consultants. The conflicts of interest involved with sellers who are also authenticators is striking and the past employment of authenticators at auction houses is also problematic. Steve Grad, for instance, was first employed by Bill Mastro at Mastro Auctions in the 1990s and got his start at PSA in large part due to Mastro’s relationship with PSA as their biggest client at the time.
Sources familiar with the current class action suit against RR say that PSA potentially has exposure in the case and the fact that Attlesey & Storm represents both PSA and RR suggests that there is a conflict of interest and possible collusion between the auction house and the authenticators. One source told us, “Why would that lawfirm represent RR Auctions when they already were representing the authentication company that was involved in the same case?” One source also suggested that other victims could join the class and implicate other auction houses like Heritage for engaging in similar practices with PSA/DNA. Currently, PSA has failed to appear at depositions and has also failed to comply with other discovery requests. One source familiar with prior PSA litigations told us, “That’s just the PSA playbook, delay, delay, delay and then throw a bunch of cash at the problem to make it go away.”
The Collectors Universe annual report for 2014 shows increased net revenues for PSA and PSA/DNA despite controversies related to revelations about the trimmed T206 Wagner card and reports that the company is under FBI scrutiny.
Speaking of cash, Collectors Universe says that the company had net revenues exceeding $60 million and that “trading cards and autographs” certified by PSA and PSA/DNA were responsible for about $14 million. The increase in revenue has come in the midst of PSA being exposed for grading the now infamous trimmed PSA-8 Honus Wagner card and reports from several sources stating the company has been under investigation related to the Mastro Auctions fraud case. According to the financial report PSA/DNA, led by senior authenticator Steve Grad, examined 431,800 autographed items which was up from 376,600 items authenticated in 2013. Based upon those numbers, PSA/DNA is examining close to 1,183 items per day. Included in that number are the items appearing in Heritage auctions that Grad spends just a day or two examining. The CU report also claims that “As of June 30, 2014, we employed 6 autograph experts with an average of 25 years experience in the autograph memorabilia market…” If those six individuals actually handled all of the incoming PSA/DNA authentications, each of them would have to examine close to 200 items each per day.
One interesting passage in the CU annual report listed under “risk factors” notes that the collectibles industry is “not currently subject to federal, state or local regulation.” CU believes that if the government does “impose restrictions on the collectibles industry” or regulates “the conduct of auction businesses” it could have a negative effect on its bottom line. CU says, “Adoption of laws or regulations of this nature could lead to a decline in sales and purchases of collectibles and, therefore also to a decline in the volume of coins trading cards and other collectibles that are submitted to us for authentication and grading.”
Collectors Universe may have good reason to present the regulation issue to its shareholders. Hauls of Shame has confirmed that several disgruntled PSA/DNA customers have approached elected officials in their own districts seeking regulation of PSA/DNA and the autograph industry. In addition, Ron Keurajian, an attorney and the author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, has drafted proposed federal legislation that could be used to regulate the authentication industry. Hauls of Shame has confirmed that the authentication issue is on the radar of the FBI and federal prosecutors and that Keurajian’s proposed legislation is currently in the hands of interested parties.
By Peter J. Nash
October 27, 2014
Uniform collector and Giants minority owner, Dan Scheinman (top) wrote to the Judge about the sentencing of Bill Mastro (Forbes Photo)
-Bill Mastro, Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos had a status hearing on October 15th in US District Court in Chicago as they await sentencing based on their guilty pleas entered earlier this year. According to papers filed in Chicago, all three men are scheduled to appear in court again for another status hearing on November 14th.
-Dan Scheinman, a minority owner of the San Francisco Giants and a prominent uniform collector, recently wrote a letter to Judge Ronald A. Guzman in regard to the Mastro case which was published last week in Chicago Federal Court. In the letter, Scheinman has some choice words for Bill Mastro and his partner Doug Allen telling the Judge:
“My view is that the scope and nature of their activities are much deeper and broader than they have admitted in public. My purpose in writing today is actually not too rehash the harm done by shill bidding or by alteration of items, but instead to seek your help as you approach sentencing. My current belief is that each of these men has significant information pertaining to the authenticity of many items, and that to date, they have not been completely open with regard to that information. I would welcome them both being honest about which items they have sold where the items have dubious authenticity (or came from dubious sources).”
-Scheinman closed out his letter telling the court that while jail time was necessary he believes that “a more honest telling of their story might be worth a reduction of their time.”
-Forbes published a profile of Scheinman in 2012 showing a jersey in his collection attributed to Bobby Thompson from the “Shot Heard Round The World” game in 1951 as well as others with game-use attributed to Dizzy Dean and Chuck Klein. Forbes mentioned his ownership of other jerseys attributed to several 1927 Yankees players, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial and Ted Williams and also noted that Scheinman’s first significant purchases were made at the 1999 Barry Halper sale at Sotheby’s. Some of Scheinman’s jerseys have made the rounds through the auction and show circuit with previous sales from “dubious sources” including Wolfers Auctions, Grey Flannel, REA, Barry Halper, Lou Costanza and MastroNet. Scheinman has purchased several jerseys that have passed through Mastro auctions including Dutch Reuther’s 1927 Yankee road uniform and Christy Mathewson’s c1901 New York Giants jersey (sold by REA/MastroNet in 2000). Scheinman, a life-long Giant fan who purchased his stake in the club in 2001, declined comment on whether he is questioning any specific Mastro-sourced jerseys in his collection.
-Barry Halper’s dubious and fraudulent jerseys sold in 1999 do resurface in the marketplace and his Bill Bevens jersey is on the block again at Heritage Auctions. In 2012, uniform expert, Dave Grob, confirmed that this Halper jersey sold at Sotheby’s as Bevens’ 1947 Yankee road jersey was misrepresented as evidenced by its button placement. (REA sold the same jersey again in 2001 for $4,591 and Mastro sold it years later in 2006 for $3,361.) When REA sold the jersey they highlighted a letter of authenticity from Bevens, himself, stating that he wore the same jersey when his ho-hitter was broken up by Cookie Lavagetto. But as Grob illustrated in a photographic plate (above), the Halper jersey was not the one that Bevens and the three auctioneers said it was. What is most amazing about the original offering of this jersey is that Halper and REA President Rob Lifson illustrated a photo of Bevens in the Sotheby’s catalog showing that the button placement was wrong but still sold it as the actual jersey worn for that game. Now Heritage and Chris Ivy are selling the jersey and stating: “Though originally marketed as the uniform sported by Bevens that fateful day, due in large part to a letter from Bevens himself claiming this association, period photography disproves the contention and identifies this as a different, authentic road set. As the MEARS A10 rating illustrates, the uniform is 100% original and unaltered…”
-Dave Grob, the MEARS senior uniform authenticator, told us he did not examine the Bevens jersey for the Heritage sale. Readers may recall similar authenticity issues with a baseball Barry Halper sold as the actual ball that broke up Bevens’ no-hitter during that same game in the 1947 Series.
-Troy Kinunen, President of MEARS, told us that the authentication was done by Dave Bushing who wrote the jersey LOA in 2006. Kinunen says that the MEARS letter does not identify the garment “as a World Series jersey.”
-Forbes writer Eric Savitz quoted Dan Scheinman calling his collecting focus as the “murky world of jerseys” and, from our perspective, it looks like Scheinman may have avoided scores of fakes and frauds that were offered by Halper and Lifson at Sotheby’s in 1999. Scheinman’s MLB partners, however, were not as lucky when Bud Selig passed along their money to the Baseball Hall of Fame to purchase millions of dollars worth of fake items from Halper including jerseys fraudulently attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson and Buck Leonard. Ironically, in his report, Savitz identified several other fraudulent Halper items as being genuine including Lou Gehrig’s last glove, Mickey Mantle’s c 1960 glove and Ty Cobb’s dentures (which are believed to be an Al Stump created fake).
REA sold this Upper Deck "Pieces of History" Babe Ruth bat card for $2,500. The back of the card pictures the bat that was allegedly cut up and reveals that it was purchased from Bill Mastro and Mastro Fine Sports.
-Upper Deck’s “Pieces of History” Babe Ruth game-used bat relic card sold for $1,200 in REA’s auction last week and the buyer could probably benefit from the types of revelations Scheinman would like to hear from Bill Mastro. As indicated on the back of the card Mastro was the seller of the alleged game used Ruth bat that was cut up and destroyed by the trading card company. The card reads: ”On the front of this card is an Authentic piece of bat used by Babe Ruth. This bat was obtained from Mastro Fine Sports one of the most highly acclaimed experts of baseball memorabilia in the industry industry.” Sources indicate that Mastro and other auction executives (and experts) supplied the trading card companies with questionable and problematic game-used bats which did not feature the size and weight specifications that would pass as “game-used” in their own auctions and sales. In addition, the bat illustrated on the Upper Deck card sold at REA does not appear to be one ever sold in a Mastro auction. We compared the bat depicted to all of the Mastro bat sales dating back to 1997 and could not locate it.
Panini and Upper Deck have created fraudulent "relic cards" like a Jim Thorpe uniform card and other cards with bat fragments attributed to unverified game-use by Babe Ruth and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
-Heritage Auctions is currently offering a Babe Ruth relic card alleged to house a piece of the Bambino’s actual game used pants. It would be nice to know which Ruth pants were used to create this card and how the card company determined the pants were authentic and actually worn by the Bambino. Heritage says the uniform fragment is “a swatch of grey flannel that once served as part of Ruth’s road uniform.” The current bid on the PSA-graded card is $1,700 with a “$3,000 and up” estimate.
-eBAY is currently offering for sale on its auction site many fraudulent “relic-cards” produced by Panini (and Donruss), Upper Deck, Topps and Leaf. Like the two bat cards offered by REA and the Ruth “pants card” being offered by Heritage, the offerings show that the card companies have done little due diligence before creating and marketing these products to consumers. Amazingly, these fraudulent materials (many of which originated with former MLB minority partner Barry Halper) have been endorsed by the Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball and are currently playing a role in an on-going case of consumer fraud. In the course of our own on-going investigation into fraud related to “relic cards” we have confirmed that Heritage Auctions has sold a significant number of cards made from these bogus materials. Look out for more on this in our upcoming reports.
The website (left) for the class action lawsuit against Bob Eaton's RR Auctions posted information stating that PSA/DNA and attorney Keith Attlesey (right, top) failed to appear for depositions last week. Sources say PSA has rejected service of subpoenas for Steve Grad and Joe Orlando.
-PSA was scheduled for depositions last week according to the website for the class action suit filed against RR Auctions. But an update to the site late last week indicates that PSA’s “Custodian of Records” and the company’s lawyers from Attlesey & Storm (also the lawyers for Bob Eaton and RR) failed to show up for the court-ordered proceedings “in violation of a duly served civil subpoena.”
-Michael Johnson, the collector who is the plaintiff in the lawsuit declined comment on the case but said that the lawsuit website would be updated with new information early this week.
-Robert Edward Auctions sold a Babe Ruth single-signed ball for close to $40,000 last week despite the fact that several experts questioned its authenticity. The ball was signed on an American Association ball bearing the facsimile signature of the league president George Trautman and a reader sent us images of four other Trautman-Ruth balls that have sold at auction since 1998 at Mastro & Steinbach; Huggins & Scott; Mastro Auctions and a second example at REA. We presented the images of all the balls together to several experts and others we consider sharp on Ruth’s signature and several of them indicated they were of the opinion that all of the balls were signed in the same hand and that the hand was not that of Ruth. One expert told us, “I’d agree the same forger did them all, particularly if all of them just came to the market in the past 16 years.” If you have knowledge of any other Trautman-Ruth balls please send images to us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com
The Babe Ruth ball sold by REA last week was signed on an American Association Ball just like four others sold at auction since 1998.
-Barry Halper’s alleged Babe Ruth suitcase sold for $5,000 in the REA sale last week despite the fact that HOS called it out as a fraud without any verifiable provenance. One reader pointed out that the embossed “Babe Ruth” name in gold leaf was applied to the leather luggage over pre-existing damage and wear and tear. As one of our readers commented, “A fool and his money are soon parted.”
A close up of the alleged Babe Ruth suitcase sold at REA reveals that the gold embossed name was applied on top of pre-existing wear and tear to the leather bag.
-Linda Ruth Tosetti, the Babe’s granddaughter, is very skeptical of the suitcase sold by REA and told us she has a genuine Ruth suitcase that has been in her family since the 1940s and shows consistent wear. There is no existing evidence to support Halper’s claims that he purchased items directly from the Ruth family and as readers may recall it was Halper who lied about purchasing Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring from Tosetti’s mother, Dorothy Ruth-Pirone.
A 1917 letter written by Branch Rickey to August Herrmann was withdrawn from Heritage Auctions' current sale under suspicion it was stolen from the Hall of Fame.
-The National Baseball Hall of Fame has still not honored our FOIA request for documents related to the stolen 1909 Pirate photo that was pulled from the recent Huggins & Scott sale. In addition to that incident being investigated by the local Cooperstown Police, another item stolen from the Hall’s National Baseball Library appeared in Heritage’s current sale but was pulled after HOS identified it as a stolen item on Twitter. The letter was slated as Lot #82800–a 1917 letter written by Branch Rickey to August Herrmann as the Vice President of the St. Louis Cardinals.
-Jimmy Spence and JSA have been in the news lately since the company was linked to authentications of large groups of autographed items signed by college football stars Jameis Winston of Florida St. and Todd Gurley of Georgia. JSA, however, has had an easier time rubber stamping items they witnessed being signed right under their own noses than they have authenticating a football dating back to the pioneer days of the NFL. (Although JSA also denies witnessing the Heisman trophy winner’s signing sessions.)
-MEARS Auctions just sold a football alleged to have been signed by the 1931 Green Bay Packers and authenticated by Jimmy Spence and JSA. The ball was advertised by the auction house as the “Finest Known Example Extant.”
Jimmy Spence (right) has been in the news for his authentications of items signed by Heisman winner Jamies Winston. MEARS Auctions sold an alleged 1931 Green Bay Packer signed football for over $13,000 with an LOA issued by JSA. Experts, however, say the signatures are not genuine and contrast authentic examples, one of which JSA previously authenticated on a 1938 Packer football.
-Hauls of Shame readers tipped us off about the 1931 Packer ball and one of them said: ”Not many authentic autographs on this football. Some of the autographs appear to have been written by a grade school child (e.g., that of Johnny “Blood” McNally or Bo Molenda). Another key autograph, that of Curly Lambeau, is almost completely wrong. I don’t see any evidence where Lambeau added quotation marks around Curly that early in his coaching career, nor should there be a break between the “m” and “b” in Lambeau. Also, the “L” is very unusual and unlike any other I have seen. Other autographs such as those penned by Arnie Herber and Cal Hubbard are also very different from known authentic examples. There are many more deviations from the signatory norm with some of the players’ names (Dick Stahlman, Hurdis McCraray, Arnold Herber) being written by the same hand (the “H” in Herber perfectly matches the “H” in “Hurdis”).” Two experts we showed this ball to echoed our reader’s sentiments calling the ball “a joke” and one added, “These are not autographs but someone chiseling in names on an old football. No way can someone call these autographs. What exemplars did they use? I can’t find any that match.” The other expert who is very familiar with the handwriting of Lambeau and Hubbard said, “I couldn’t get beyond the Cal Hubbard and Curly Lambeau signatures, total fakes.”
-Troy Kinunen, of MEARS, told us that when JSA issued its full LOA for the 1931 Packer football, the alleged signature of Arnie Herber was identified as a secretarial.
-A Hauls of Shame reader may have given us the quote of the year in regard to the TPAs: “Two people control a billion dollar industry and both of them were put on their pedestal by the guy who is about to go away to prison for committing some of the hobby’s greatest frauds.”
By Peter J. Nash
October 16, 2014
The Yogi Berra Museum (top left) was robbed last week and NYDN reporter Michael O'Keeffe (bottom right) went to Rob Lifson (top right) for an expert opinion on museum thefts. Lifson's current REA sale includes a bogus Jackie Robinson ring (bottom left).
(Scroll to Bottom For Updates)
-Yogi Berra is famous for saying “It’s Deja Vu all over again” but he never thought that classic line would link himself and his museum to other baseball legends like A.G. Spalding, Harry Wright, Henry Chadwick, and the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection. When Berra’s museum was robbed last week, he unfortunately became forever linked with the multi-million dollar heist at the Fifth-Avenue branch of the library as robbers raided museum display cases and boosted sixteen of his treasured World Series rings (a mix of period and replacement rings) and his two MVP awards.
-David Kaplan, the director of the Berra Museum, refuted several published reports which said that the historic glove Berra used to catch Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series was also stolen. Kaplan confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the glove is safe and secure. The value of the items stolen from Berra easily exceeds $1 million.
-Michael O’Keeffe and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News broke the story last Wednesday and credit has to go to O’Keeffe who opted to quote REA auctioneer Rob Lifson as an expert on institutional thefts.
-Rob Lifson told the Daily News, “This is very unique material and it would have to stay underground. These are not mass-produced items — it’s like trying to sell a famous painting. Anyone who bought them would have to keep it secret. Why not just steal the Mona Lisa and try to sell that instead?” Having been caught stealing rare artifacts from NYPLs Spalding Collection and having trafficked more stolen materials than any other auctioneer, Lifson definitely delevered an “expert opinion.”
-Detective Dean Cioppa of the Passaic County Prosecutors Office has been identified on Twitter by Yogi’s granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, as looking for information and leads from collectors in connection with the robbery. He can be reached at 973-837-7667. A $5,000 reward was initially offered by Crimestoppers according to Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura and that reward has increased to over $30,000 thanks to donations from Berra fans and supporters.
-The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center’s recent loss has also rekindled interest in claims that the museum purchased and then sold a large Negro League collection from a patron (who had also donated significant materials to the museum). Sources indicate that the museum leadership, under the auspices of director David Kaplan, bought the collection for several hundred thousand dollars and then sold the collection to a private collector for a profit. One source also says the original owner of the collection sold his artifacts to the museum at a discount so that the local African-American community could have access to it and that he was never officially notified of the sale. The seller thought his valuable collection had found a permanent home at Montclair St. and museum officials allegedly told the patron that an expansion of the museum would ultimately house his entire collection. David Kaplan confirmed that the museum sold the collection “several years ago” and claims that the museum had the legal right to dispose of the entire collection.
Yogi Berra joins Henry Chadwick, Harry Wright, and A.G. Spalding as a fellow Hall of Famer whose collection has been compromised and burglarized in the Tri-State area.
-Yogi Berra’s loss of the treasured items from his Yankee career also links him to fellow Hall of Famers Chadwick, Spalding and Wright in that all of their institutional baseball collections were robbed in the Tri-State area.
-Robert Edward Auctions is offering several fraudulent items in its current Fall 2014 sale. The first problematic item our readers alerted us of is an alleged 1946 Montreal Royals championship ring “attributed to Jackie Robinson.” The first and most glaring problem facing this item is that it comes with an LOA from Barry Halper who claimed to have purchased it from Rachel Robinson in 1976. A source close to the Robinson family tells us that Robinson’s widow never sold anything to Barry Halper in his lifetime. Another source told us that he attended the premiere of the Robinson bio-pic 42 and that at the event Rachel Robinson introduced auctioneer Josh Evans of Lelands as the only person she had ever sold any of her husband’s memorabilia to. In addition, several collectors and dealers who knew him in 1976 said Halper was not a big collector of rings at that time and refuted the claims in his LOA noting that collector-dealer George Lyons was the most prolific buyer of championship rings in the mid 1970s through the early 1980s. Considering Halper’s outright fraud related to fabricating the provenance of Joe Jackson and Mickey Mantle materials he falsely claimed he purchased or acquired from the Jackson family and Yankee clubhouse man Pete Sheehy, REA should have rejected the tainted ring without a second thought. (And we didn’t even mention yet that Halper also sold a 1970’s Rawlings jersey to the Hall of Fame claiming it was Jackie Robinson’s last game-used jersey from 1956.)
-Rob Lifson and REA claim in the lot description: “We even contacted Rachel Robinson about this ring, but unfortunately, according to her assistant, Mrs. Robinson could neither confirm nor deny its provenance or provide any information.” Our source says he knows for sure she never sold any such ring to Halper and most all hobbyists we spoke with find it hard to believe that Robinson’s widow was selling off his personal awards and artifacts just a few years after he passed away. REA has not posted the Halper letter on its website although sources indicate that requests have been made for Lifson to post the LOA which is believed to be fraudulent. That being said, the ring has failed to receive an opening bid of $10,000.
Evidence shows that Barry Halper (center) lied about the provenance of REAs alleged 1946 Jackie Robinson ring (left). Halper also sold a fraudulent Robinson jersey to MLB and the HOF in 1998. Halper said it was Robinson's last from 1956, but it didn't match photos of Robinson's jerseys in 1956 (right) and was manufactured in the 1970s.
-Robert Edward Auctions in its lot description also establishes that the only link to Robinson is the Halper story and the “JRR” initials engraved on one side of the ring (with the other side left blank). Engraving initials on the exterior of a ring is highly unorthodox for the period and the fact that no other example has ever surfaced (other than Halper’s rarity) has also fueled speculation that the ring is not genuine. Instead of rejecting the item after learning of these issues, REA added this to the lot description: “Given the information we have, we seem to be left with the following additional possibilities: that either Robinson, the Montreal Royals, or someone else had this ring specially made years afterwards. While that might seem unlikely to some, it is not, and we have firsthand experience with regard to such a circumstance.” REA leaves out the likelier third option: The ring is an outright fraud and fake.
-Michael Borken, the championship ring watchdog from Sportsrings.com, has no opinion on the fraudulent Robinson ring and told us, “I had no interest in the ring from a collecting standpoint so I did not spend any time looking into the ring or formulating an opinion based on Halper’s letter.”
-The Jackie Robinson Foundation’s communications director, Josh Balber, passed along our inquiry to the Robinson family but they have not yet responded to Halper’s claim of purchasing the ring from Mrs. Robinson in 1976.
Experts say the Babe Ruth ball in REAs current sale (left) and an encapsulated example (right) are forgeries and contrast the genuine handwriting of Babe Ruth placed upon a ball signed for Ted Williams in the 1943(center).
-Rob Lifson is notorious for selling Babe Ruth fakes, even when experts and other hobbyists present clear and convincing evidence showing that the items are bogus. A perfect example of his peddling fakes is his sale of the now infamous Ruth forgery inscribed to Gary Cooper from his Spring 2013 sale. Now, in his current auction, he includes another Ruth item that experts tell us is a fairly well-done single-signed forgery of Babe Ruth. The signature on the ball appears to be executed in a slower and more deliberate hand that merely mimics Ruth’s genuine scrawl and lacks the quick movements and a visible “bounce” of his handwriting. The Ruth signature on the REA signed ball appears to the untrained eye as being signed perfectly and neatly but never descends below the straight baseline of the autograph—a tell-tale sign of a Ruth forgery. The ball is certified genuine by JSA and Jimmy Spence and it now joins a large group of Spence-authenticated forgeries that have flooded the marketplace.
REA is offering an alleged 1925 Senator team ball (bottom) but it features forged signatures on a ball created between 1928 and 1931. HA sold a genuine 1925 team ball (top) which shows the correct stamping and patent information for 1925 on its sweet spot.
-Mastro Auctions was the previous seller of REAs current lot 691, an alleged 1925 AL Champion Washington Senators signed ball featuring Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Clark Griffith. Mike Gutierrez authenticated the ball for Mastro and JSA and Jimmy Spence have authenticated it for REA. The problem is that all of the signatures on the ball are poorly executed forgeries which exhibit labored and slowly signed examples of alleged members of the 1925 team. In addition to that opinion, it is actual fact that the Official AL ball it is signed on was manufactured between 1929 and 1931, according to ball expert Brandon Grunbaum in the Official American League Baseball Guide. The REA ball has stamping that reads: “PAT’D RE. 17200,” which indicates it is impossible for the ball to represent the champion 1925 club. Some collectors have pointed to a Johnson 20th anniversary event in 1927 as the reason for the ball being post-1925, but the REA ball was not created by 1927 either. Considering the expert opinions that strongly identify every signature on the ball as a forgery, the belief that the ball is real appears to be just wishful thinking fueled by a false sense of security created by the LOA from JSA, Jimmy Spence Jr. and Jimbo Spence III.
-Hauls of Shame readers regularly tip us off to items that are misrepresented and identified as rarities in auctions when they are not. One such reader recently pointed out a Chicago Cubs pennant that REA and Lifson call “exceedingly rare” and dates to “the 1920s.” REA says they have never sold one “over the past forty years” but our reader, collector and pennant expert Dave Maus, from Iowa, quickly pointed out that the same style pennant sold previously at: Legendary in 2011 for $269 (1920’s), Huggins & Scott (1920’s) in 2007 for $325 (as one in a 15 pennant lot), sold as a 1920’s-1930’s pennant at Antiquesportsshop.com for an undisclosed amount and was also offered on the B/S/T section of the website Net54 by member “Perezfan” and described as 1920. (In addition, another Net54 member “Matty39″ showed off his example (1910) in another thread.) An identical version of another color was also auctioned by Legendary Auctions in a group of 6 pennants for $658, however, now the pennant was described as having been produced in the 30’s or 40’s. In conclusion, at least (6) six of these “exceedingly rare” Cubs pennants from the “1920s” turned up in just a 15 minute cursory search of the internet and they are described as being produced in different eras ranging from 1910 to the 1940’s.
REA is selling a Chicago Cub pennant as a rarity despite the fact it is quite common. Net54s Leon Luckey and REAs Rob Lifson falsely claim HOS is posting on the collector forum under "fake names."
-Net54 moderator Leon Luckey and his pal Rob Lifson went off the deep end this week and falsely accused this writer of posting on the chat board under fictitious handles. The episode apparently took place when someone called “The Big Train” posted on a thread about the Yogi Berra thefts and chronicled the misdeeds and fraud of late collector Barry Halper. In response, another 54 member named Tom Russo, an attorney from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and Cooperstown, New York, who goes by the online name “BigTrain,” defended Halper’s well documented fraud and denied his direct ties to the NYPL thefts. Soon after, “The Big Train” (who posted a link to an old Hauls of Shame article) was suspended from the site and was bizarrely accused of being yours truly by both Lifson and moderator Luckey.
Tom Russo (inset), an attorney from Scotch Plains, NJ, posted slanderous statements about HOS on Net54 under the name "BigTrain" and made additional claims stating he has never seen direct or indirect "proof" that Barry Halper "orchestrated or commissioned thefts" from the NYPL. The montage above features images of items stolen from the NYPL and nearly all of them were once owned by Barry Halper.
-Rob Lifson said, “The very person who has fraudulently signed up on Net54 with a fake name and contact info with the user ID “thebigtrain” (a name obviously chosen to create confusion with longtime poster “BigTrain”) is – I personally have no doubt – none other than Peter Nash himself.” (Hauls of Shame will bet Lifson $293,102.55 that his claim is false and slanderous.)
-Leon Luckey said, “In my mind it is a 99% probability it is Nash. Could I be wrong, maybe….but I absolutely don’t think so.” Luckey added, “I have information that 100% puts Nash on this board, more than once, as an impostor. I have kicked off at least a few aliases, almost assuredly him, in the last few days.” Perhaps Mr. Luckey can share that information with “The Big Train” and his lawyer. It appears that super-sleuths Luckey and Lifson were unable to figure out that “The Big Train” is, in fact, a real live person who has no affiliation with Hauls of Shame and is also a practicing attorney who lives in New Jersey.
-Hauls of Shame apologizes to “TheBigTrain” for not responding to an email he sent us back in October of 2013. We incorrectly thought you were Tom Russo the liar and slanderer who calls himself “BigTrain” and appears to be the charter member of the Halper-Truther Society. It seems only fitting that Tom “BigTrain” Russo’s pal, Rob Lifson, is selling a JSA-certed forgery of Walter “Big Train” Johnson in his current sale.
Net54 members think this JSA-certed signed baseball bat was signed by Hugh Jennings but next to an authentic example (bottom) it bears little resemblance to Jennings own handwriting. Spence originally authenticated the Ty Cobb signature on the bat (top right) but has now reversed his opinion.
-Leon Luckey was nice enough to invite this writer to join his forum at Net54, but I have no desire to jump into that cesspool. Sorry Leon, I already email most of your knowledgeable members regularly as sources for various reports (some of whom also send me your personal emails). I think I’d put a gun to my head if I had to deal with guys like Brendan Mullen posting pics of Hughie Jennings forgeries on baseball bats while Scott Forrest and other “experts” give JSA-certed fakes their thumbs up. Didn’t Josh Evans tell the owner that bat was a ridiculous fake?
-Net54 threads are sometimes informative and I do read them, but mostly to see what your fellow fraudsters are up to. I had to ask one of your members to send me the images posted of the bogus Hughie Jennings bat since I have never been a member and have no ability to access photos on your site. But don’t let that get in the way of your posting of entirely false and slanderous claims with no evidence whatsoever to back them up. I presume you have lost what little credibility you had with your recent delusional post in which you stated you had “information that 100% puts Nash on this board, more than once, as an impostor.”
-Howard Chasser, another Net54 member, responded to Luckey and wrote, “If and when the posters identity is uncovered – if it turns out to be Nash I am sure the net 54 community will be first to “cry foul” and consider it when assessing our own confidence in his integrity.” When the “community” learns that Luckey has intentionally posted fraudulent claims about the non-existant “imposters” they can assess his integrity as the board moderator. Looks like Leon Luckey is a card doctor, a shill bidder and a pathological liar to boot.
Joe Orlando and Steve Grad will be deposed in the class action suit vs. RR Auctions. The class action website posts disturbing emails from PSA and JSA authenticator Roger Epperson (above second from right).
-Joe Orlando and Steve Grad are scheduled to be in the deposition chair again on October 24th in conjunction with the class-action lawsuit filed against PSA authenticator Bob Eaton and his auction house RR Auctions. Interestingly, Eaton and RR are being represented by PSA and Collectors Universe’s attorneys at Attlesey Storm LLC. The website for the class action says that they will be posting video links of the depositions of Eaton and Bobby Livingston but does not indicate if the deps of Orlando and Grad will be on video. We’re hoping the Grad deposition is posted so collectors can see the Pawn Stars authenticator field his first questions about never being a “grad.” We suggest anyone collecting autographs check out the class auction website for the section which posts email exchanges between collector Michael Johnson and Roger Epperson. They are eye-opening to say the least. Sources indicate that RR has attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed several times via motions which have all been unsuccessful.
-The Baseball Hall of Fame and its President Jeff Idelson have still failed to respond to Hauls of Shame’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents related to the stolen 1909 Pirate photo that was pulled from the recent Huggins & Scott sale.
-Hauls of Shame would like to thank our loyal readers for their support as we are now averaging close to 250,000 page views and over 75,000 unique users per month.
This Babe Ruth photograph was not personalized to the recipient by the Bambino. The solo signature is a red-flag that has prompted experts to take a closer look at the item REA calls, "the finest" Ruth photo they have ever seen.
UPDATE (Oct. 17, 2014 11:20PM): Another REA/JSA-Babe Ruth Autograph Questioned By Experts-Portrait Of A Problematic Bambino Portrait
REA is offering another questionable Babe Ruth autograph as Lot #729 and in its lot description states:
“This photo features one of the finest Babe Ruth signatures we have ever seen on a photo, with each flawless pen stroke contrasting magnificently against the light background. When JSA examined this photo, we were particularly fascinated that they were able to date the signature with some degree of confidence to circa 1943 (such a specific year), and that it appeared they were able to actually match the writing instrument (or at least the style of writing instrument) as well as the specific color of the ink Ruth used in signing this photo with other items signed by Ruth at approximately the very same time (by comparing this signature to others that were dated in their exemplar file).”
We would love to hear more about how JSA determined the date of the photo related to the writing instrument used and the ink color. Several experts we consulted with thought the color of the ink was similar to the ink used on many of the “Gary Cooper-style” Ruth forgeries that first appeared in Mastro auctions. While the auction house and JSA focus on the dating of the signature, they fail to inform bidders of other more important issues:
1. This Ruth portrait is said to have been produced in conjunction with the movie Pride of the Yankees in 1942 and in our exemplar file we found sixteen different examples (including the current REA offering) that have been offered at public auction since 1990. Of those sixteen examples, twelve were personalized with salutations to the recipient; two were signed “Sincerely”; and just two were signed “Babe Ruth.”
The Ruth portrait from the film "Pride of the Yankees" was usually inscribed and personalized by the Bambino. Above are (8) examples of the photo that have sold at auction and have been certified genuine by either JSA or PSA/DNA. The example from the current REA sale is highlighted in red.
2. Aside from determining the authenticity of all sixteen examples, it can be said that the two examples signed “Babe Ruth” without any inscription are suspicious to say the least. And considering the existence of “Gary Cooper-style” forgeries on other photos signed in the same manner, the REA lot should face even greater scrutiny.
3. The REA signed photo exhibits considerable differences when compared to the other examples and appears much more uniform and “perfect.” The experts we spoke with did not think the REA photo was signed by the “Gary Cooper-style” forger, but it does share similarities in letter construction, spacing, slant and pen pressure.
4. REA includes an alleged unverifiable provenance story in the lot description that reminded us of the story accompanied by the multiple Ruth forgeries on photos which were pulled from REAs 2013 sale.
PSA/DNA and JSA authenticated and later rejected the top Ruth signature. The bottom signature appears in the current REA sale with a JSA letter of authenticity.
5. If you are perplexed with how the experts determine whether a Ruth is genuine or bogus, don’t feel embarrassed. The forgers are that good and it is sometimes difficult to identify their work. As an example we leave prospective bidders on REAs lot 729 with the above Ruth signature comparison. The signature at the bottom is the current REA lot and above it is another example that sold for $10,000 at a MastroNet sale c.2000. The top signature was authenticated by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA but when it was recently submitted to both companies they refused to write an LOA for their clients. We agree with the TPAs opinion that the top signature is a forgery and, along with several non-TPA experts, we believe that the current Ruth signature featured in lot 729 is a forgery accompanied by a fraudulent LOA.
REA is selling this suitcase and claims it was once owned by Babe Ruth, but they have no provenance to support the claim outside of Barry Halper's former ownership of the bag.
UPDATE: (October 18, 2014) Is REA Selling Babe Ruth’s Suitcase Or Just A Big Bag Of Halper-Lifson Bullshit?
Another lot in the current REA sale with Barry Halper provenance (that has not yet received its opening bid) is what the auction house says is Babe Ruth’s suitcase. REAs lot description says:
“The brown-leather suitcase, featuring twin handles and two locking clasps, was manufactured by Oshkosh Luggage and represents the larger of the two matching Babe Ruth suitcases that once resided in the fabled Barry Halper Collection. (Ruth was perhaps the single favorite area of collecting for Halper, whose collection also included Babe Ruth’s equipment bag, player contracts, 1927 World series ring, and many other significant and not-so-significant personal effects.) Those two bags first appeared at auction as Lot 84 in the 1999 Barry Halper Sale, where they realized $14,950.”
It is appropriate for Rob Lifson to refer to the Halper Collection as “fabled” because many of the alleged historic items Lifson and Halper sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 were accompanied by unsubstantiated and, in some cases, fraudulent fables. This suitcase is one of them. Halper claimed to have purchased suitcases and other items from Claire Ruth but there is no direct evidence whatsoever that he ever bought anything directly from Ruth’s widow. It is also well documented that Halper lied about purchasing Ruth’s alleged 1927 World Series ring from his daughter Dorothy Ruth-Pirone. In fact, there is only one bag from the Halper Collection that appears to have an actual Halper provenance, and it is not the suitcase being sold by REA. In an interview the late Bert Sugar for our upcoming book, Sugar revealed to this writer that the only bag he knew of which actually had Ruth family provenance was the equipment bag that was also sold at Sotheby’s. Sugar told us that Claire Ruth gave him the bag and one of Ruth’s old ashtrays when he was ghost-writing a magazine article with Mrs. Ruth in the 1970s. Sugar also said he traded the equipment bag to Halper for a large 1914 Miracle Braves display piece and also confirmed that when he had the bag it did not contain a card with Ruth’s autograph on it.
The late Bert Sugar said that he acquired Babe Ruth's equipment bag from Claire Ruth and later traded it to Barry Halper.
But when Halper appeared on Good Morning America with Charles Gibson before the Halper Auction at Sotheby’s in 1999 Sugar’s story transformed and he told the host that Bert Sugar retrieved the equipment bag out of a dumpster behind Mrs. Ruth’s apartment building. Halper attached entirely fraudulent provenance stories to some items and also invented or expanded upon others with more fantastic or newsworthy information. His Babe Ruth equipment bag story is a good example of the latter and when Bert Sugar was told of the GMA interview he laughed and said, “Really a dumpster? Well, Barry was always making up stories and bullshitting. He was a master at it. I’ve embellished a few good ones over the years, too, but the Babe’s equipment bag came from his old apartment and Claire. I’m smoking a cigar right now and using his ashtray she gave to me. I held onto that.”
The current suitcase being offered by REA has the name “BABE RUTH” embossed in gold leaf and this identification does not exhibit “wear and tear” that is consistent with the rest of the suitcase. The embossed name appears to have been added or at best re-embossed at a later date. Considering all of the fraudulent provenance stories created by Halper and no evidence of a direct link to an acquisition from the Ruth family, it is hard to believe that REA could offer this bag as definitively being Ruth’s former property. Having not received an opening bid for $5,000, it appears that collectors are not buying the Halper-Lifson fables.
(If you have any hobby news or tips on auction fraud or stolen artifacts please drop us a line at: Tips@haulsofshame.com)
By Peter J. Nash
October 3, 2014
(Scroll to bottom for Update)
It is nothing new for an artifact stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame to turn up for sale in a Huggins & Scott auction as there have been a bunch of them sold by the Maryland auction house in the past few years. There have been rare 19th century season passes for the Boston BBC; letters sent to Hall officials by legends like Nap Lajoie and even documents from the famed August Herrmann Papers collection. The most recent entry of auction house contraband is the current Huggins & Scott lot consisting of a rare composite photo of Honus Wagner and the champion 1909 Pirates which they describe as: “…the lone example we have encountered.” It is likely the lone example because the photograph is believed to be unique and has evidence of its HOF accession number being scraped off the reverse of the cabinet mount and is the exact same photo that appeared in a Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) pictorial publication dedicated to the Dead-Ball Era in 1986 with a credit to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown. It’s most definitely stolen and it is also New York State property that the Hall of Fame will likely never claim title to, just as they have failed to take action over the past decade with many other problematic offerings at H&S, Heritage, REA and Legendary Auctions.
What makes this artifact most remarkable, however, is that it had already been identified in 1994 as an item stolen from the Hall and was returned to the Cooperstown institution by this writer after I purchased it at a baseball card show in Westchester. The photo originated from the late dealer and auctioneer, Don Flanagan, and after I purchased the image, I realized the exact same photo had been featured in SABR’s National Pastime-Dead-Ball Era Pictorial issue edited by John Thorn and Mark Rucker. Thorn and Rucker had photographed the original at the museum in 1985 and it is documented on the surviving contact sheets for that shoot which were the basis for all of the images included in the publication. The original SABR contact sheet is marked on its reverse, “H.O.F. B20.”
The 1909 Pirate photo being sold by Huggins & Scott was featured in the 1986 SABR Dead-Ball Era Pictorial (inset) with a credit to the National Baseball Library (top right).
At the same baseball card show I purchased another rare photograph that I also discovered had been stolen from the Hall, an 1897 Elmer Chickering cabinet photo of the Boston Beaneaters and the Royal Rooters including super-fan “Nuf Ced” McGreevy and Congressman John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald posing on the steps of the Eutaw Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. That photo also showed visible evidence of the Hall of Fame library accession number being removed and defaced on the reverse but more importantly I noticed that the exact same photo with the same creases and damage appeared enlarged as an approximately ten foot by twelve foot image posted on the wall in the Hall of Fame’s 19th century exhibition room. I purchased the photo from New York dealer Ron Vitro who currently works as a consignment agent for Huggins & Scott. I reported my acquisition of both stolen photographs to then Hall of Fame librarian Tom Heitz and returned both photos to the museum along with the contact information of the sellers.
The Huggins & Scott auction lot shows the removal of the HOF accession number on its reverse (left). The exact same cabinet photo appears on SABR contact sheets as HOF property via a 1985 photo shoot (right).
Since 2010, the Hall’s 1909 Pirate composite photo has appeared along with the 1897 Boston photo on the Hauls of Shame website’s “Recovered Artifacts” section, however, it turns out that the same Pirate photo had already left the Hall of Fame’s possession and was previously offered and sold by Huggins & Scott in a 2007 auction where it realized a price of $3,000. The images of the photo in the 1986 SABR pictorial publication, the 2007 Huggins & Scott sale and the current auction all share unique imperfections on the photographs which are identical. The most pronounced identical damage on each image from 1986 to 2014 is located below the portrait of Honus Wagner at the center of the lower portion of the mounted photo.
Images of the 1909 Pirate photo (l. to r.) in 1986, 2007 and 2014 all show the exact same surface damage (in red) on the silver gelatin print stolen from the NBL.
Interestingly enough, images of the reverse of the photo from the 2007 and 2014 sales reveals that additional notations were added to the mount since it was returned to the Hall including the year “1909″ and the phrase, “We know not without you Honus.” Huggins & Scott makes no mention of the writing added to the reverse of the cabinet in its current lot description and they also fail to note that the “Fred C. Clarke” inscription appears to be written in Clarke’s own hand. Evidence suggests that the 1909 photograph was actually donated to the Hall of Fame by the Hall of Famer, himself, along with a treasure trove of other items and ephemera. The consignor of the 1909 Pirate photo, Michael Calvello, has also consigned several other fraudulently misrepresented photos to the current H&S auction which he claimed were of Hall of Famer Amos Rusie, Moses Fleetwood Walker and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson based solely on handwritten information fraudulently added to the reverse of each item.
An image of the back of the stolen 1909 Pirate photo as it appeared in the 2007 H&S auction. The current offering shows "1909" and "We know not without you Honus" notations (outlined in red) that were added post-2007. The evidence of the defaced HOF accession number and Fred Clarke's signature are clearly visible on both offerings.
Hauls of Shame contacted former Hall of Fame head librarian, Tom Heitz in Fly Creek, New York, and, while he declined comment on the appearance of the 1909 photo in the current Huggins & Scott sale, he did confirm that two photographs were returned to him at the National Baseball Library in December of 1994. Heitz could not recall the exact images returned but did recall that upon the return of the items to the library he drafted and sent a memo to then Hall of Fame Vice President Frank Simio. Heitz’ twelve-year tenure at the Hall of Fame ended just a week after the stolen photos were returned to the library. Since Heitz left the Hall of Fame in 1995 he has been active in the baseball research community and in 2014 was honored by the Society For American Baseball Research with its Henry Chadwick Award.
Tom Heitz (left) served as the HOFs head librarian for 12 years and in 1994 accepted the return of the 1909 Pirate photo in the current Huggins & Scott sale and an 1897 Chickering photo of the Boston BBC in Baltimore. The reverse of the photo sold by Huggins & Scott rep Ron Vitro (inset) shows the defacement of the HOF library accession numbers.
Hauls of Shame also contacted Baseball Hall of Fame President, Jeff Idelson, asking for an explanation as to how a stolen item that was actually returned to the institution is now being sold by an auction house for the second time? This writer also sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter request to Idelson last Friday which read:
“I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that pertain to the return of New York State Property (a c.1909 silver gelatin photograph of the Pittsburgh Pirate team) to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in December of 1994. I am requesting any and all documents related to: the photograph’s original donation to the Museum and all accession records for the donations of Fred C. Clarke; all documents and correspondence between Tom Heitz, Frank Simio, Donald Marr, James Gates or any other Museum employee regarding the return of New York State property to Tom Heitz by Peter Nash in 1994; all correspondence of documents related to baseball dealers Ron Vitro and Donald Flanagan; all documents related to the additional return of New York State Property (an 1897 Elmer Chickering photo of the Boston BBC), and any and all documentation regarding the 1909 Pirate photograph being disposed of to any entity or person not affiliated with the Museum or New York State.”
Idelson and the Hall of Fame have yet to respond to the request which FOIA guidelines state should be answered within five days. All of the information sent to Hall of Fame officials was also forwarded to the Cooperstown Police Department and Chief Michael Covert last Friday.
Auctioneer Bill Huggins (center) has been selling New York State property and Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson (right) has failed to pursue recovery or claim title to stolen artifacts.
Huggins & Scott representatives Josh Wulkan and Bill Huggins refused to respond to our inquiry about the photo and who consigned it to the auction back in 2007. Dealer and current H&S consignment rep Ron Vitro confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the 1897 Boston photo he sold in 1994 was, in fact, returned to the Hall of Fame.
We also contacted Michael Calvello, the consignor of the pirated Pittsburgh photograph and the bogus Joe Jackson WWI panoramic photo that was already withdrawn from the same sale on account of its being an outright fraud. Calvello told us, “The markings were on the (Pirate) photo when I purchased it in July of 2014.” Calvello also said that someone went to the Cooperstown Police on his behalf and was told that ”as of yesterday (Sept. 30) there was never a police report filed back in the 1980’s, 1990, 2000, 2010 (or) 2014.”
A call on Wednesday to the Cooperstown Police Department by Hauls of Shame revealed that Chief Michael Covert has been out of the station and will return to his office next week.
The current eBay listing of a 1916 letter believed stolen from the HOF includes information about its previous offering at REA and the HOFs failure to claim title to it.
In the past few years, several letters and documents believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s August Herrmann Papers Collection have appeared in auctions conducted by Heritage, Legendary, Huggins & Scott and REA. Some of them were removed from the sales but recently Heritage and Huggins and Scott have proceeded with auctioning off the stolen and suspected stolen items because the Hall of Fame has failed to claim title to the items. One of those documents, a 1916 protested game letter from George Stallings to NL President John Tener, was previously withdrawn from an REA sale but has resurfaced on eBay with an interesting note from a California seller called “filmdom” who was also the REA consignor. Although he has no provenance information whatsoever for the letter he is offering, the eBay seller discusses the prior removal from REA and says:
“The Baseball Hall of Fame objected to its sale, claiming they believed the letter was once in their protested games file. This is based on circumstantial evidence, as there is insignificant information. Meaning, that the HOF has items in their file surrounding the date of this letter, hence, the assumption that it was stolen from them. Again, there is no photographic evidence or otherwise, but based on assumption. I was a somewhat new collector in buying vintage items back in 1993. I just felt great having a part of baseball history.”
The eBay seller also claims to have additional information related to the Hall of Fame stating:
“The HOF didn’t ask that this letter be returned to them, though I’m sure they would like having it. There is no way of positively knowing its link. It would be subjective to know what Tener (or predecessors of) did to all the documents once in his/their possession, as this one in question could have been sent to an umpire, executive or even a collector. In review: I must state mentioned so that the potential buyer understands this letter can be resold to a dealer or collector, but not necessarily to a big name auction house, unless the HOF gives their permission. I do not know if the HOF has changed their stance since three years ago.”
The seller ended the sale yesterday and the eBay site says it is no longer available.
Hauls of Shame will post updates on the Hall of Fame responses to our FOIA request as soon as we receive answers from the office of President Jeff Idelson.
Jane Forbes Clark was recently profiled on CBS News (left); Huggins & Scott has removed the 1909 photo stolen from the HOF (center); HOF President Jeff Idelson has refused to honor a FOIA request (right)
UPDATE (Oct. 9, 2014): Huggins & Scott Removes Photo Stolen From Hall of Fame While Cooperstown Police Investigate; Museum Officials & President Jeff Idelson Fail To Respond To Freedom Of Information Act Request
Huggins & Scott Auctions removed the stolen 1909 Pittsburgh Pirate photograph from its current sale while the Cooperstown Police Department investigates the details of the crime that was committed sometime between 1986 and 1994. The exact same 1909 image was photographed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in the National Baseball Library in 1985 and appeared with a credit in a 1986 SABR publication with an ownership credit to the NBL. The consignor of the stolen photograph, Michael Calvello, did not end the auction himself to pursue a reimbursement of the $3,500 from the individual he bought the tainted artifact from this past July.
A source familiar with Hall of Fame operations is not surprised with the Hall of Fame’s failure to respond to Hauls of Shame’s FOIA request for documents related to the donation and theft of the 1909 Pittsburgh photograph which appears to have been donated by Hall of Famer Fred C. Clarke. The source told us, “Jeff Idelson is not pulling any strings over at the Hall, it is all Jane Clark’s operation. The buck stops with her. She thinks she is above the law and can get away with her cover-ups of these thefts. She thinks she is untouchable.”
Jane Forbes Clark is the Chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the sole heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune. She is considered one of the wealthiest women in the world and hails from the family that founded the Hall of Fame in the mid-1930s. Her late grandfather, Stephen Carlton Clark, was recently in the news regarding other stolen artifacts in a lawsuit alleging that he knowingly purchased (from the now defunct Knoedler Galleries) a Van Gogh painting, The Night Cafe, that had been stolen from a Russian family during the Bolshevik Revolution. Clark had bequeathed the painting, valued at close to $150 million, to Yale University which was sued by a relative of the Russian family trying to recover the plundered masterpiece. A Federal Judge in Connecticut recently ruled that Yale could keep the painting that was wrongfully seized from the Russian family.
The Clark family and the Hall of Fame do not own any of the artifacts housed in its museum and library collections as all donated materials are the property of New York State. The removal of the stolen 1909 Pirate photograph from the Huggins & Scott sale was not initiated by the Hall of Fame which has failed to pursue recovery of stolen items in accordance with state law.
By Peter J. Nash
Sept. 16, 2014
A "Shoeless" Joe Jackson fake (top left) sourced to Barry Halper (bottom right) is up for sale at Huggins & Scott.
-Huggins & Scott thought they had a “Shoeless” Joe Jackson treasure on the block in their current Fall sale, but it’s nothing but a misrepresented fraud. The item is a 1918 panoramic photo alleged to feature an image of Jackson dressed in his military uniform at Fort Meade in Maryland. That, however, is impossible.
-Joe Jackson never served in the military and the face of the individual H&S claims is Jackson clearly has facial features that illustrate he is not the Chicago White Sox star who was banished from baseball after the 1919 World Series fix. The only evidence suggesting that Jackson is in the photograph is a handwritten inscription on the back of the period frame which identifies Jackson specifically. That inscription, however, was placed on the item to decieve and defraud potential buyers.
-Michael Calvello, of New Jersey, is the consignor of the photo and he took to collector forum Net54 back in July to show off his alleged treasure which he said was from the Barry Halper Collection. Since July he received all sorts of accolades from collectors like Denny Walsh who called the photo “truly brilliant” and a collector named Bill Gregory from Flower Mound, Texas, who called it “exquisite,” despite being forewarned by the owner that the photo was “ex-Halper.” The reverse of the frame includes an inscription referencing a past auction sale stating, “Former property Barry Halper, NY, Lot 210, May 1995.” Other collectors questioned the identification more seriously after the Huggins & Scott sale preview was posted online and Hauls of Shame took to Twitter to call the photo a fraud last weekend.
-Josh Wulkan of Huggins & Scott sent Hauls of Shame a bizarre email on behalf of his consignor claiming that REA President Rob Lifson made an “exact match” and ordering us to retract our Twitter post. He added:
“MY PANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH OF SHOELESS JOE JACKSON IS AUTHENTIC. IT WAS LOOKED AT BY ROBERT EDWARDS PRESIDENT ROBERT LIFSON AND FACIAL COMPARISON TO KNOWN PHOTOGRAPHS OF JOE JACKSON IN 1917, 1918 AND 1919 WERE COMPARED AND AN EXACT MATCH WAS MADE.”
Huggins & Scott's Josh Wulkan (center) is offering two bogus Joe Jackson items despite having information supporting claims that a broadside (left) and a WWI panoramic photo are both frauds.
-Hauls of Shame sent an email to Huggins & Scott informing them we had determined that the face of the individual in the photo was not Jackson and that the lot was a fraud. It’s not difficult to determine even with the low resolution images posted by the auction house that the ears and chin did not “match” as the seller stated. Our opinion was echoed by SABR Pictorial History Committee co-chairman Mark Fimoff, Jackson researcher Mike Nola, authenticator Dave Grob and a host of other hobby figures. Despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting the item is a fraud, Josh Wulkan of H&S dug in deeper and embarrassed himself and his employer posting on Net54:”We are running this photo because we believe it is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. There is evidence to support that he toured various military operations in and around the Mid-Atlantic area following his tenure in the Bethlehem Steel League and prior to Spring Training of 1919.”
-Huggins & Scott was also informed by us that the alleged Joe Jackson broadside being offered in the current sale is also a fraud and has been considered a recently produced fantasy item for several decades by dealers auctioneers and collectors. The “Black Crows” fakes first surfaced in the early 1990s and were accompanied by several spectacular frauds alleged to be signed Jackson baseballs, game used bats and correspondence from Ty Cobb to Jackson. One major auctioneer told us, “100% fake. They (Huggins & Scott) should be pulled. The same guy had other bad stuff.”
The bogus Jackson broadside in the H&S auction features a font known as "Extra Bold" and wasn't designed until 1952 making it virtually impossible for the poster to be vintage and genuine.
UPDATE: A SABR member contacted us and shed some more light on the fonts used in the alleged Joe Jackson broadside and the information only suggests our contention that the item is counterfeit. The learned gentleman told us:
“The boldface font here appears to be Futura Extra Bold. While Futura appeared for the first time in 1927, the Extra Bold font was not designed (by Edwin W. Shaar) until 1952.”
JSA and James "Jimbo" Spence III (right) authenticated a Hugh Jennings forgery on a bat sold at Hunt Auctions (left). Jimmy Spence Jr. had previously authenticated the entire 1910 Tiger team on the same bat in 2001 but now says only the Jennings signature is genuine.
The SABR member also doubted that Jackson would have been allowed to play in a National or American League ballpark after his banishment:
“While I cannot attest to this certainly, it seems doubtful to me that any NL or AL park post-1934 would host a game featuring any of the Black Sox. Landis denied Jackson’s application for reinstatement to minor league levels in 1934.”
On Twitter, graphic artist Todd Radom offered yet another clue that the Jackson broadside is a fake.
-Todd Radom, a graphic artist who designed the logo for Super Bowl XXXVIII, took to Twitter to inform us that the auction broadside incorporated, “Inch marks as opposed to true quote marks. Done on a computer, not composed with metal type.”
-JSA continues their apparent fraudulent authentication practices as Jimmy Spence Jr. and Jimmy “Jimbo” Spence III rejected a Hunt Auctions lot alleged to have been a 1910-era baseball bat signed by the Detroit Tigers. The bat had already been authenticated by Jimmy Spence at PSA/DNA in 2001, but the current JSA certification claims that only the Hughie Jennings signature on the bat is genuine while all of the others are “clubhouse.” Where do we begin here? Clubhouse signatures on a 1910 era baseball bat? In reality, all of the signatures on the bat are forgeries that resemble the quality of “Coaches Corner” offerings. Despite the fact that JSA and Spence already admit they were wrong in 2001 on every single signature except the Jennings, gullible collectors were still willing to believe that the current authentication of the Jennings was legitimate. The Jennings is, however, an awful forgery and the buyer of the lot at Hunt Auctions was defrauded by the auction house and JSA.
-Michael Johnson is the plaintiff in a pending class action lawsuit against RR Auctions, Bob Eaton and Bobby Livingston. A source tells us that the “case is filed and permanently venued in Santa Barbara Superior Court, Santa Barbara, California.” Another source tells us that attorneys are looking to expand the class with additional alleged victims. Look for more coverage on this lawsuit in the future.
UPDATE (2PM Sept. 16th): The Huggins & Scott link for the fraudulent Joe Jackson photograph shows that the lot has been pulled from the sale. The bogus Joe Jackson “Black Crows” broadside is still up for sale.
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.)
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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 )