Sports memorabilia collector charged with fraud, including fake Heisman

Sports

An Arkansas collector has been charged in Chicago in an alleged $10 million scheme to defraud and mislead investors involving sports memorabilia, including using a phony Heisman Trophy as collateral on a loan.

The charge comes more than two years after FBI agents raided John Rogers’ home and offices in Little Rock as part of an ongoing investigation out of Chicago targeting fraud in the lucrative but often shady world of sports memorabilia.

In 2014, the Tribune detailed in a front-page article how Rogers was being sued in Arkansas over the purchase of the famed archive of Chicago photographer George Brace, who had amassed an astonishing collection of baseball portraits over six decades, capturing legendary players from Babe Ruth to Ernie Banks in candid shots before games at Wrigley Field and the old Comiskey Park.

According to the one count of wire fraud filed Friday, Rogers routinely altered sports memorabilia items to make them appear authentic and used proceeds from the fraud to repay customers who had figured out the items were fakes.

One part of the scheme involved the purported 1978 Heisman Trophy awarded to University of Oklahoma running back Billy Sims, identified in the charges only as “Player 1.” According to the charges, Rogers fixed a fraudulent nameplate on a ceremonial trophy that had been given to the emcee of the Heisman award ceremony, making it appear as if it were the actual Heisman awarded to Sims.

Rogers also created a phony letter, purportedly from Sims, confirming the authenticity of the trophy, the charges allege. He then allegedly used the fake trophy as collateral to secure a $100,000 loan from an investor.

The investor was not identified in the charges, but last year a man named William M. Hogan sued Rogers in Arkansas alleging he had lent him more than $5 million to bankroll the purchases of sports collectibles, including a loan for a 50 percent interest in the Sims trophy, records show.

Rogers, 43, was charged in a criminal information, court records show. Defendants charged by information typically plan to plead guilty.

The investigation first targeted one of the country’s biggest sellers of sports memorabilia that operated out of suburban Chicago. Three former executives of Mastro Auctions were found guilty of fraud, including owner William Mastro, the so-called King of Memorabilia who cooperated in the probe. Mastro was sentenced last year to 20 months in prison after pleading guilty to rigging auctions, falsifying catalog information, even using a paper slicer to improve the value of a rare T206 Honus Wagner baseball card.

Rogers had bought a similar — but apparently unadulterated — Wagner card for a staggering $1.62 million in a 2008 auction run by Mastro’s company. In 2012, when Mastro was charged, Rogers publicly defended the sports memorabilia market.

“I don’t think our industry has any more shenanigans than any other industry,” Rogers told The Associated Press at the time.

Rogers had bought the Brace collection in 2012 for $1.35 million from the late photographer’s daughter, Mary. Their contract required Rogers to make a digital replica of each image for Brace’s personal use and gave her the right to take back the collection if Rogers defaulted on the deal, the suit said. Brace sued after Rogers missed several payments and failed to send her any usable digital prints.

The Brace collection was not specifically mentioned in the criminal charges filed Friday. However, the eight-page information alleges that Rogers falsely told several investors their money “would be used to fund the digitization, marketing and sale of photographs from certain collections.”

Rogers’ Little Rock attorney, Blake Hendrix, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Reached by phone Monday, Mary Brace said she was happy to hear Rogers had been charged but that it wasn’t going to help her “one bit” as far as recouping any money.

Brace said she won a judgment against Rogers in 2015 for defaulting on the contract but has been told by her attorneys that it’s unlikely she’ll ever see any restitution because banks have seized all of Rogers’ assets. By the time Rogers’ home was raided in January 2014 he had already sold much of the Brace collection or used it to pay off creditors, she said.

“Everything that I didn’t want to happen to this collection has happened,” Brace said. “My dad spent his entire life trying to keep this collection together, and now it’s gone.”

[Source:- Chicago Tribune]