New York Daily News investigative reporter Michael O'Keeffe was one of the speakers at the Net 54 dinner during last week's National Sports Collectors Convention. The co-author (with Teri Thompson) of The Card, a book about the industry and those associated with the PSA 8-graded Honus Wagner card, O'Keeffe has been reporting on the FBI investigation into the hobby since 2007.
A few of his comments on the recent indictments of three former Mastro Auctions officials:
- "This is big time. This is a 16-count, 33-page indictment. The maximum sentence for each one of these counts is 20 years. If I were Bill Mastro or Doug Allen or Mark Theotikos, I'd be freaking out right now."
- "The government has investigated fraud in the hobby before but those defendants in those cases tended to be bottom feeders, guys who operated in the shadows and out of the public light (but) these are the big boys of your industry and now they've been indicted. They were the kings of sports memorabilia and now the federal government is saying they're crooks. They are, of course, innocent until proven guilty."
- "The arrogance these guys showed over the years was stunning. In 2007, I wrote a story that the FBI was asking questions about Mastro Auctions. Around that same time, they put up for sale what they claimed was a Michael Jordan warmup jacket from his days at North Carolina. MEARS told them this thing was no good. It was altered and belonged to somebody else. There was a lot of chatter about this on the forums. They knew that a lot of people were looking. They knew the FBI was looking. They knew collectors were looking and they sold it anyway. This is a $50 million per year company and they risked it all for what? What was the commission on that? $3,500? $4,000? It was peanuts and they threw it away. The jacket belonged to Ranzino Smith, who for most of us has been lost to history."
- "I applaud the efforts of the FBI. I applaud the efforts of the U.S. Attorney's Office and every other federal agency that is working to clean up your hobby of bad elements that quite frankly have stolen millions of dollars from you guys. I hope the card doctors and autograph forgers are looking at this (case). I hope the auction house executives that might still be shill bidding are looking at this. I hope the guys who are manufacturing bogus jerseys and all of the other garbage that goes on in your hobby are looking at this."