Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to hand former sports memorabilia dealer and photo archivist John Rogers a prison sentence of nearly 12 years.
In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, Acting U.S. Attorney Joel R. Levin added new accusations and spelled out other claims against the former college football lineman who pleaded guilty last March to one count of wire fraud. Investigators now say Rogers was peddling non-genuine items even after signing off on the deal. Rogers’ attorney is hoping for a sentence of less than half of the 141 months the government is seeking.
The case against Rogers is a long and tangled tale involving bank loans based on phony collateral that included fabricated agreements with long-time collectors, fake pieces of sports memorabilia, defaulted loans and a trail of victims who trusted a man who was once considered a high roller.
While he agreed to plead guilty to turning a commemorative Heisman Trophy into one he claimed belonged to Oklahoma legend Billy Simms, the sentencing memorandum paints a darker, deeper picture of Rogers’ fraud and a long-running pattern of preying on friends, investors and banks.
Rogers admits he “sold fake sports memorabilia for many years” according to the 23-page document.
Once a small-time sports card shop owner, Rogers raised his profile enough to purchase a T206 Honus Wagner card for $1.62 million in 2008. Prosecutors say that deal gave him credibility with clients and investors who willingly bought into his schemes.
“Rogers produced and sold customers various sports memorabilia items that he knew were not authentic because he had either created the items himself or altered them to make them appear authentic,” Levin wrote. “Rogers created documents and provided them to customers to make phony items appear to be genuine. These included fraudulent letters and certificates of authenticity for memorabilia, fraudulent hologram stickers from a major auction house, phony stamps, and phony embossers.”
FBI agents raided Rogers’ home and photo archive business in 2014 while investigating fraud inside Chicago-based Mastro Auctions. It was later learned that former Mastro president Doug Allen tipped Rogers off to the impending raid while wearing a recording device. That episode spelled big trouble for Allen, who is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence of his own.
Agents seized a multitude of fake autographs, certificates of authenticity and other items from Rogers’ home and business.
Rogers Photo Archive had become successful on the surface and Rogers business dealings had enabled him to buy a five-story mansion in the Little Rock area complete with elevators, secret rooms, a pool and batting cages. However, investigators say buying huge newspaper archives, digitizing the images and selling the negatives and photos for profit wasn’t as successful as Rogers had hoped and money became a bigger issue. Still, he sought money from friends, colleagues and acquaintances, promising them a bigger return when he was able to complete the next deal. Prosecutors say one Rogers client made eight business agreements with Rogers over a period of time, transactions that wound up costing him $1 million.
Rogers began creating more bogus agreements on which he forged the names of “sellers” to show potential investors he had sufficient collateral. In one such fake transaction, Rogers claimed to have bought the “Jeff Fritsch Collection” of vintage baseball cards for $1 million and immediately flipped it to Upper Deck for $1.32 million.
“On top of that, the sports memorabilia fraud that he had been committing over the years was catching up with him,” Levin wrote in the sentencing memorandum. “Some of the customers he had been defrauding were detecting some of the bogus merchandise he sold them, and they wanted their money back. Needing a capital investment, Rogers used his notoriety and salesmanship to lure investors and banks to provide him money. Many of the investors were introduced to a successful entrepreneur with a national reputation, and were smooth-talked into “can’t miss” opportunities by Rogers.”
One individual told investigators Rogers sold him what was billed as the “Scottie Pippen Collection”, including the 1994 All-Star MVP trophy the Arkansas native and former Chicago Bulls star had won. Pippen later confirmed to investigators that his name had been forged on authenticity documents provided by Rogers and that the trophy Rogers sold wasn’t the real one.
“For years, Rogers fooled the customers, investors, and banks he dealt with, presenting them with fake merchandise, phony contracts, and many, many lies,” Levin stated. “Rather than dealing with them honestly, Rogers was running a Ponzi scheme and stealing money to fund his extravagant life style and failing business. In the end, his fraud caused well over $20,000,000 in losses to his customers and investors.”
The government is seeking not only the 141 month prison sentence but the entire amount of $22.76 million in restitution owed to Rogers’ victims.
His attorney says Rogers didn’t intend to defraud anyone but that “each fraudulent transaction was an attempt to pay someone else back.”
Instead, Blake Hendrix argues that two former employees who stole over 37,000 images and sold them on eBay left Rogers with a $2 million capital loss. Around the same time, Rogers committed to buy the archive of McClatchy Newspapers but didn’t have all of the money to finance the transaction and brought in two outside investors. That, Hendrix says, led to a vicious cycle of “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul” in which Rogers would land additional investors and borrow money to pay other investors to pay off debts associated with purchasing the newspaper archives. Hendrix also says Rogers was using cocaine and drinking heavily.
However, the government’s sentencing memorandum states that even after agreeing to cooperate with authorities three years ago, Rogers was offering fake Mickey Mantle cards. After his guilty plea eight months ago, prosecutors say Rogers was still involved in illegal activity, enlisting the services of a girlfriend—named in the sentencing memo as “Individual 1”– who later agreed to speak with the FBI.
“Individual 1 described all the hallmarks of a John Rogers fraud: forgeries, fake email accounts, fabricated memorabilia items, fake nameplates on trophies, and lies to prospective buyers,” the memorandum states. “This included Rogers giving Individual 1 a script to use in trying to sell a phony Super Bowl I game ball they had created. It also included Rogers directing Individual 1 to assist him by painting other pieces of memorabilia to make them appear to be the authentic.”
Also according to Levin’s memorandum, money from recent Rogers transactions wound up being transferred between third-party bank accounts which kept his creditors from collecting on millions of dollars in judgments and investigators learned that earlier this year, some of that money went into an account controlled by Doug Allen’s wife, Amy.
Rogers is scheduled to be sentenced December 20 and a source has told Sports Collectors Daily that a judge would likely hand him a sentence of between seven and eight years. With time off for good conduct, it’s likely he would be released sooner.
Federal prosecutors say handing Rogers a stiff sentence would send a message to others involved in the buying and selling of sports memorabilia.
“Many in the industry have kept watch and have witnessed Rogers’ downfall from a successful businessperson to a convicted felon, and they will pay attention to the sentence this Court imposes. A substantial sentence will send a message to other individuals in the industry that committing these crimes that impact real people will be met with a significant period of time in federal prison.”