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‘King of Memorabilia’ pleads guilty to fraud

William Mastro

William Mastro

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Updated: November 12, 2013 6:23AM

The so-called “King of Memorabilia” faces up to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty Thursday to a fraud scheme that included doctoring the most expensive baseball card ever sold.

Bill Mastro — who altered the ultra-rare $2.8 million 1909 Honus Wagner cigarette card in 1986 — for years traded in phony memorabilia and used shill bidding to drive up prices and con collectors who bought goods he sold through his business, Mastro Auctions.

In court Thursday, he admitted trimming the sides of the Wagner card to increase its value, and to failing to disclose that an 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings trophy ball he sold for $62,000 was shown in lab tests to be a fake made after World War II.

His guilty plea Thursday was a case of second-time lucky for the 60-year-old Palos Park man. Judge Ronald Guzman in April rejected an earlier plea deal Mastro had agreed with prosecutors that would have capped his sentence at 2½ years.

Under the new deal, prosecutors will again ask Guzman to limit Mastro’s prison term to 30 months, but the judge’s hands will not be tied.

Mastro, who entered his guilty plea in a clear voice while staring at the floor, also will have to cooperate in the prosecution of his alleged accomplices, Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos and William Boehm, and will have to pay a fine of $250,000.

Prosecutors say he won’t have to pay restitution to the collectors he conned, because calculating their losses would be too complex.

Though his scam ran from 2002 through 2009 and included many legitimate items of sports memorabilia whose value he falsely inflated through shill bidding, prosecutors say he also sold a phony lock of Elvis Presley’s hair and traded in political memorabilia.

The Wagner card, once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, was his most famous trade. It last sold for $2.8 million in 2007.


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