Government prosecutors say a 57-month sentence for Doug Allen is appropriate—but they wouldn’t object to a federal judge handing down an even longer prison term for the former Mastro Auctions executive.
Allen is scheduled to be sentenced by federal judge Ronald Guzman next Monday on fraud charges in connection with shill bidding and other illegal activities from 2002-2009 as Bill Mastro’s right hand man.
Responding to a defense request that Allen serve no more than 18 months, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Derek Owens and Steven J. Dollear say Allen’s “reckless and obstructive conduct in sabotaging an FBI investigation” warrants a sentence of nearly five years. They also detailed some of the shill bidding and other questionable activity inside Mastro’s offices while expressing hope that a stiff sentence would send a warning shot to others in the sports memorabilia field.
“The 18 month term requested by defendant is not appropriate and will serve to send the wrong message that defendant’s crime and his obstruction of the FBI’s investigation is not serious,” Owens and Dollear wrote in a lengthy rebuttal to last week’s report by Allen’s attorneys. The government’s attorneys say statements that Allen cooperated with authorities were exaggerated and that it wasn’t until January 2013 that he sat for the first time to answer questions at length from investigators.
They wrote that Allen “had multiple opportunities to end the fraud but did not. Instead of stopping after he learned about the FBI investigation in 2007, defendant continued with the fraud scheme – which demonstrates little respect for the law.”
While acknowledging Allen’s lack of prior criminal activity along with the difficulty in proving the extent of the shill bidding that took place inside the company’s Chicago offices, Owens and Dollear stated Judge Ronald Guzman “should consider instituting advisory guidelines that would result in a much longer sentence.” Those advisory guidelines call for an 87-108 month prison term.
The company’s founder and former CEO, Bill Mastro, is currently serving a 20-month sentence at a federal prison camp in Pekin, IL.
The two prosecutors outlined a long list of wrongdoing at Mastro Auctions including Allen asking a paper restoration company to use the back of a second card to improve the condition of a rare T206 Eddie Plank without disclosing the alteration. The altered card passed authentication, receiving a numerical grade of 6 and sold for over $50,000 in April of 2004.
The government prosecutors also listed several examples of Allen’s role in artificially inflating the prices of collectibles sold through Mastro. In the April 2008 auction, prosecutors say Allen knew one of his clients had placed a ceiling bid of $80,000 on a 19th century Mayo Football card set and placed shill bids that eventually triggered the client’s high bid, which won the auction. Investigators say Allen did the same on a Walter Johnson bat which sold for $75,000.
Also cited was the “Code of Conduct” trumpeted by the company in the fall of 2007, one which promised to disclose to customers any items that were owned by Mastro, its employees, or any affiliated parties. However, that didn’t always happen, especially with items owned by a company tied with Mastro and known as Historical Collectibles. All of Historical Collectibles merchandise, records, and other assets were maintained at Mastro’s suburban Chicago offices.
Between approximately April 2008 and February 2009, investigators found the company failed to disclose ownership of over 1,000 items owned by Historical Collectibles that were offered for sale by Mastro. Court documents say ceiling bids were implemented on several hundred items owned by Historical Collectibles using shill accounts “to stimulate bidding on those items, to protect the Auction House’s investment in the items, and to insure that the items were not sold for a perceived undesirable price.” When the shill bids won, the sales were cancelled.
“The defendant’s involvement in shill bidding, his concealment of the shill bidding, and selling altered memorabilia is a serious offense,” Owens and Dollear wrote to Judge Guzman. “The long-running and systematic nature of the scheme undermines confidence in the auction house and sports memorabilia industries, and calls into question the true value of merchandise.”
Following Allen’s indictment, FBI investigators set their sights on another person of interest. According to the Chicago Tribune, it was former dealer John Rogers, a friend and business associate of Allen’s. In his plea agreement, Allen told prosecutors he’d cooperate in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence. However, when investigators set up a meeting, Allen revealed he was wearing a wire and offered insight into the layout of Rogers’ home. Because of that, Rogers was prepared when law enforcement agents arrived in Arkansas to search his house and business addresses.
Later, Rogers began to cooperate with authorities, wearing an undercover recording device himself as he spoke to Allen by phone. During that conversation, Allen gave him advice about how to thwart the investigation.
“By informing the target of an investigation that the FBI was going to search his residence and business, defendant placed the FBI agents conducting the search at considerable risk,” Owens and Dollear stated in the pre-sentence investigation response. “That risk was entirely unnecessary and was an example of a man concerned more about protecting his relationship with a business partner than the safety of law enforcement.”
Also cited was a 2013 issue between Allen’s Legendary Auctions and the Detroit Public Library.
According to the Coordinator for Special Collections at the Library and reported by the New York Daily News, Allen took possession of certain items from the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection for identification and estimates but the Library discovered some of them had been placed for sale through Legendary. After the library demanded the items be returned, Allen sent all but two of the items back. One of the items not returned was an 1894-96 Baltimore Baseball Club cabinet photo that was sold for $11,000. The library claims the second item, a “Philadelphia National Team” photograph, is missing.
In the filing for U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, the assistant attorneys also offered a warning to other auctioneers.
“For others in the auction industry with authority similar to defendant, a 57 month sentence will make clear that if law enforcement puts in the time and effort necessary to prove up shill bidding – the court will meet the conduct with a significant consequence,” they wrote.