CHICAGO -- A major U.S. memorabilia company improperly jacked up auction prices for some baseball cards and sold hair advertised as belonging to Elvis Presley even though its authenticity was in doubt, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
In one case, the owner of the now-shuttered Mastro Auctions, William Mastro, allegedly failed to let potential buyers know in advance that a century-old Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card had been altered – information that would have reduced the rare card's auction price, according to the 33-page indictment released by the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago. The indictment does not say how much the card sold for, but other Wagner T-260 baseball cards have sold for more than $1 million.
Mastro and another executive at the Chicago-area firm also sold hair purported to be from Presley even though DNA tests on the follicles raised questions, according to the indictment. It does not say how much the hair fetched at various auctions.
"Consumers might be lured to the auction market for sports memorabilia and other collectibles by an emotional attachment to an item or purely as a calculated investment, but . . . bidders must remain mindful of the maxim, `Buyer Beware,'" said Gary Shapiro, the acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement Wednesday.
Mastro Auctions, which billed its itself as the world's leading sports and Americana auction house, is also accused of misleading bidders into thinking demand for an item was greater than it really was.
Mastro, 59, of Palos Park, faces one count of mail fraud, and former executives Doug Allen, 49, of Crete, and Mark Theotikos, 51, of Addison, face multiple counts. Just one count of mail fraud carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.
After Mastro Auctions folded in 2009, Allen and Theotikos founded a similar company, Legendary Auctions, whose investors bought the assets of Mastro Auctions, according to the Lansing-based company's website.
No one answered at a phone number for a William Mastro in Palos Park on Wednesday. A message left at the Legendary Auctions' office seeking comment from Allen and Theotikos was not immediately returned.
Honus Wagner baseball cards are among the world's rarest. Wagner retired in 1917 with more hits, runs, RBIs, doubles, triples and steals than any National League player.
John Rogers, of North Little Rock, Ark., bought a Wagner T-206 from Mastro Auctions in 2008 for $1.62 million. The indictment is unclear about which card is at issue, but Rogers said the card he bought was never altered.
"The card in question is not the card that I purchased in 2008," he said. He has since sold that card.
Rogers said he didn't think this week's indictment would shake the confidence of aficionados or dissuade them from spending millions on rare baseball cards.
"This story won't hinder that," he said. "I don't think our industry has any more shenanigans than any other industry."