Auction Exec Set to Change Plea in Federal Fraud Case

Legendary Auctions was scheduled to conduct a live sports memorabilia auction in Cleveland Friday night with its president and CEO facing federal fraud charges and apparently ready to plead guilty.

Doug Allen will become the third former Mastro Auctions employee to admit to charges of shill bidding and other improper practices while helping run Mastro Auctions several years ago.

Legendary Auctions President Doug Allen.

Legendary Auctions President Doug Allen.

Court documents canceling a pre-trial conference were filed in Chicago federal court this week because of the plea change.  The New York Daily News first reported Allen’s impending guilty plea on its website.  Allen is scheduled to appear in court August 11.

Online and live auctions of sports memorabilia and other collectibles conducted during the 2000s by Mastro Auctions, based in suburban Chicago, routinely defrauded customers, according to a federal indictment issued in 2012.

Bill Mastro, who owned the former business that once billed itself as the “world’s leading sports and Americana auction house,” together with Allen and Mark Theotikos, both former executives for the company, were indicted on fraud charges for allegedly rigging auctions through a series of deceptive practices, including so-called “shill-bidding,” designed to inflate prices paid by bidders and to protect the interests of consignors and sellers at the expense of unwitting bidders.

According to the indictment, Mastro allegedly failed to disclose that he had altered the hobby’s most famous card, the T206 PSA 8 Honus Wagner, by cutting the sides in a manner that, if disclosed, would have significantly reduced the value of the card.  Government prosecutors alleged that Mastro and Allen caused the sale of certain items knowing that their authenticity and condition were misrepresented to customers, including purported hair of Elvis Presley and a purported 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings trophy baseball.

Mastro was chairman and chief executive officer from 1996 until February 2009.

Allen, who was president and chief operating officer of Mastro Auctions between 2001 and February 2009, was charged with 14 counts of wire and mail fraud.

Theotikos was employed by Mastro Auctions between 1996 and February 2009 as vice president of auction operations and, later, vice president of acquisitions, was charged with six counts of wire and mail fraud.

A fourth defendant, William Boehm, 63, who was Mastro Auction’s director of information technology, is facing one count of making false statements to FBI agents investigating Mastro Auction’s practices.  Boehm is scheduled to go on trial next month.

After Mastro Auctions closed its doors in 2009 in the wake of an FBI investigation, Allen formed Legendary Auctions.  He  had originally pleaded not guilty and a September trial date was set.

Mastro pleaded guilty in October and Theotikos did the same this summer but neither has been sentenced.

Between at least 2001 and February 2009, government prosecutors say Mastro, Allen, Theotikos canceled sales and engaged in and facilitated shill-bidding to fraudulently inflate prices to the detriment of bidders.  The three allegedly placed shill bids at various times using a corporate bidding account, their own personal accounts, and accounts of employees and friends.   Charges state Mastro and Allen also failed to disclose alterations and caused restoration work to be done on baseball trading cards, despite assurances that no such work would be performed.