FBI lurking at Sun Times Show in Chicago

(This story originally appeared on www.nydailynews.com)

By Michael O’Keeffe

The FBI agent leading the federal investigation of sports memorabilia attended the Chicago Sun-Times Sports Collectibles Convention in Rosemont, Ill., this weekend, making several industry insiders more than a little nervous, sources told the Daily News.

The same agent has questioned industry executives and delivered subpoenas for records at the past three National Sports Collectors Conventions.

Executives from Legendary Auctions looked especially jittery when the agent approached their booth and asked for a catalogue for the Bill Mastro Collection, the sources said.

Mastro Auctions, sports memorabilia’s largest auction house before it folded in 2009, appears to be at the center of the investigation into shill bidding, fraud and counterfeiting. Legendary was founded by Mastro Auctions president Doug Allen and other former Mastro officials. Bill Mastro, once the undisputed king of sports memorabilia, is selling what has been described as one of the collections ever assembled.

Executives from other prominent companies — including Grey Flannel, Heritage Auctions, Professional Sports Authenticators, Hunt Auctions and Lelands — have all been questioned by investigators at past shows.

Sports memorabilia dealers, authenticators and collectors said they thought the Chicago grand jury investigating the hobby would hand down indictments by the end of summer, but the probe, now approaching its fourth year, continues to drag on.

Dealers and collectors say the investigators are focusing on shill bidding, counterfeit memorabilia and card doctoring.

The government has also inquired about the hobby’s "Holy Grail," the T206 Honus Wagner card once owned by NHL star Wayne Gretzky. The card, previously owned by Mastro, is widely believed to have been cut from a sheet decades after it left the printing press and trimmed after that, a cardinal sin in the card hobby. The card is now owned by Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner E.G. (Ken) Kendrick, who bought it for $2.8 million in a private sale in 2007.


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