Allegations of re-sealed wax packs are a big part of the case against a Pennsylvania dealer who will now state his case in front of a jury.
Cumberland County, PA judge Charles Clement ordered 47 year-old Roger Hooper back to court later this fall after hearing arguments against the collectibles dealer at a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
Hooper faces five charges including theft by deception and deceptive or fraudulent business practices. Investigators claim he used an acquaintance to sell items for him on eBay which were not as advertised including vintage unopened sports card packs, autographs and individual cards. At least one other collector purchased items later found to be fraudulent, according to authorities. Most of the complaints deal with tampered packs Hooper is accused of selling.
A formal arraignment was set for November 25 with a trial likely to take place early next year.
Cumberland County Detective Sergeant Earl Bock told the court Wednesday that a machine for re-sealing opened packs and wax sealing material were found as part of what he called an "assembly line" operation which involved Hooper allegedly removing the valuable cards and replacing them with others. Hooper claimed the items police saw were packs he was sealing after they'd been damaged and that the machine was used to seal items in plastic so they could be shipped.
The case actually began in August of 2007 when Bock received a complaint from Ned Kerstetter, a collector from Carlisle, PA. Kerstetter told Bock he agreed to sell items through Kerstetter's eBay account during the spring of 2005 in exchange for a commission. After shipping the packages, Kerstetter began receiving complaints from buyers that the delivered merchandise wasn't what was advertised and many wanted their money back. Kerstetter claims he attempted to get Hooper to rectify the issues, but was rebuffed.
Another collector, Virginia resident David Herrell, purchased baseball cards and other memorabilia from Hooper in April of 2006, but quickly found that most of the items were not what he was led to believe. Included in the list of items purchased was a lot of 1971 Topps football wax packs that were rejected by an authentication company.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Daniel Sodus told Sports Collectors Daily that Wednesday's preliminary hearing lasted 4 1/2 hours with both Kerstetter and Herrell taking the stand for the Commonwealth and Hooper testifying on his own behalf. Written opinions on the merchandise in question was provided by representatives of James Spence Authentication, Dave & Adam's Card World and Global Authentication.
After hearing the evidence, Clement decided there was sufficient evidence to bound Hooper over for trial. Hooper maintains his innocence and his attorney, Corky Goldstein argued the case should be a civil matter. Hooper is a familiar figure in Cumberland County, having run a live auction business locally for many years.
Sodus said Kerstetter withdrew over $50,000 of his own money from various bank accounts to attempt to satisfy the eBay complaintants after Hooper refused to refund any money, offering Kerstetter memorabilia instead. Several buyers, believing the merchandise belonged to Kerstetter, sent him threatening e-mails and others placed phone calls including one received by Kerstetter's young daughter that contained threats of bodily harm.
Kerstetter ran a computer business on eBay as well and saw his reputation plummet because of the negative feedback left by angry buyers who had purchased items orginating with Hooper.
"He valued his own integrity so much he used his own money to satisfy those customers because it was the right thing to do," Sodus told Sports Collectors Daily.
Sodus said when investigators executed a search warrant on Hooper's property earlier this year, they found a work area packs partially opened and sticks of gum nearby.
"Some of the trading cards that were found inside wax packs looked like they had been kicked down the street for a few blocks," Sodus said. "It would certainly appear as if somebody shuffled the deck." Bock told a local newspaper earlier this summer that Hooper's fingerprints were found on some of the cards located inside unopened packs. Detectives seized numerous sports cards and pieces of memorabilia as evidence.
Since the case became public earlier this summer, Sodus says his office has received numerous complaints from past customers of Hooper's and that the case is still being investigated. While some complaints are in regard to collectible coins, most center around sports memorabilia.
The district attorney's office faces two challenges: to prove a crime was committed and to show evidence to link the defendant to the crime. Should the case go to trial, Sodus says he expects to call expert witnesses from the sports memorabilia industry to the stand.
The case has generated significant interest in the area according to Sodus.
"I've been an attorney for 17 years and have never had a case like this," Sodus said. "At it's core, it's a theft allegation but the factual elements involved are not what we get every day."
Hooper remains free on bond.
Related: Pennsylvania dealer faces criminal charges (7/22)