A Massachusetts dealer-collector finally will be getting his exquisite — and expensive — basketball cards back. And the former postal clerk who stole and tried to sell that dealer’s 23 high end cards through the internet — including a 2003-04 LeBron James Upper Deck Exquisite rookie patch card worth at least $25,000 — was sentenced Tuesday to three years of probation by a federal judge in Boston.
Earlier this year, Venecia “Melissa” McLaren, 30, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to theft of mail by a postal service employee. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Mark L. Wolf ordered the probation and also said McLaren must pay a $3,000 fine and $10,964 in restitution. McLaren also must serve the first four months of her sentence confined to her home and must use an electronic monitoring bracelet for the first two months.
McLaren now lives in New York and works as a clerk in a warehouse.
The Massachusetts dealer, a 37-year-old man named Eric —he asked that his last name be kept anonymous — operates buynicecards.com, a website that focuses on buying, selling, trading and consigning high-end sports cards. He is hoping to regain the cards that were stolen — they were held by police as evidence since McLaren was arrested and are worth at least $68,668 — very soon.
“I’ll be relieved when I have them in hand,” Eric said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m happy it’s over.”
The 23 cards that McLaren was convicted of stealing included a 2003-04 LeBron James Upper Deck Exquisite rookie patch card numbered 13/23 and graded an 8 by Beckett Grading Services; and a 2007-08 Kevin Durant Exquisite rookie patch card, which earned an 8.5 grade.
“(The James card) is probably worth more now,” Wolf said, noting that James and his Cleveland Cavaliers team had just won their first NBA championship earlier this week.
Two of McLaren’s siblings — her sister, Ophelia McLaren; and her brother, Lennica McLaren — have been sentenced to one year of probation for their part in the crime. According to court records, Ophelia and Lennica were arrested after they attempted to sell four of the stolen cards to an undercover agent in New York.
Seventeen of the cards have been found.
“All the major ones were recovered,” Eric said. “The others were worth about $10,000 combined.”
Venecia McLaren had been a postal worker in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, and sorted mail and P.O. box deliveries, court records show. On Jan. 21, 2015, she was asked to drive to the Roxbury post office. She drove in her own car and loaded packages into her trunk and brought them back to Jamaica Plain, according to a court filing by her public defense attorney, Cara McNamara. Two packages were left in the trunk of McLaren’s car. Instead of returning the packages, McLaren attempted to sell the cards — worth thousands of dollars — for only hundreds, court records show.
Tuesday’s sentencing of Venecia McLaren ended a nightmare for Eric that began Jan. 20, 2015. In January 2015, Eric said he gave some cards to a friend in Boston to have them graded at an onsite event hosted by Beckett Grading Service. Eric’s friend mailed the cards back in two boxes to West Roxbury, Massachusetts, via insured Priority Mail Express.
When Eric picked up his mail, there was only one package. And 23 cards — including the James and Durant rookies — were missing. But Eric had photographs of each card and a detailed record of each graded card’s serial number.
On March 9, 2015, five of Eric’s cards surfaced on a non-eBay selling site called Offerup.com.
Eric and the Boston police department worked to find the cards, and authorities arrested Venecia McLaren when she tried to sell three of the cards to an undercover agent in Boston and offered to sell a fourth, according to court records.
“Every day I get up and go (to work), I know I messed up my life,” McLaren told the court before her sentencing, according to a story on MassLive.
Eric, who did not make a statement to the court, is now working to get his cards back.
“The guy from the postal inspector’s office texted me today, we’re going to set up an appointment,” Eric said. “I hope to get the cards back by the end of the week.”