Mayo Gilbert McNeil, the 82-year-old Colorado man federal authorities say was involved in a scam to sell phony high-grade sports cards, was arraigned in New York on Thursday. According to court papers, a plea agreement could be in the works.
His arrest last week on conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges caught the attention of an east coast hobbyist who says he lost over $300,000 to McNeil in 2019.
This collector, who has asked for anonymity, had come to accept his losses but is now hoping to someday get at least some of it back. He told SC Daily this week he bought several high-grade cards only to be told later that what was inside didn’t match the PSA label on the slab.
He wasn’t new to the hobby. He’d been active on and off, buying, selling and trading higher end cards as a side business. Three years ago, he had become a successful business owner with money to spend and was looking for some high-end cards to buy.
He was in the market for a PSA 10 1993 Upper Deck SP Derek Jeter rookie and found one on eBay, but wasn’t sure about buying such an expensive card over the internet.
“He said ‘if you’re worried, I’ll fly out to you, so I said, ‘fine, come to my office’.”
The hobbyist says McNeil made the trip and the two completed the deal.
It was the first of three transactions he made with McNeil over just a few weeks and the two met at the collector’s business office on more than one occasion. Among his purchases were a 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rookie in a ‘10’ holder, a 1971 Topps Terry Bradshaw rookie rated 9, a 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie and a Walter Payton rookie, both with labels indicating they’d been graded Gem Mint 10.
He says he spent about $310,000 with McNeil between May and June of 2019, paying with cash and wire transfers. The PSA certification numbers on his newly acquired matched what was in the company’s database.
The collector eventually sent all of the cards he’d bought from McNeil to PWCC Marketplace where he was hoping to flip them for a profit. He had just met Jesse Craig, the company’s Director of Business Development.
“He called me and said ‘I hope you’re sitting down. I’ve got some really, really difficult news to tell you. These are all fake, man’.”
The cards the victim bought were real, but they weren’t the ones graded by PSA. Instead, it’s believed McNeil and his co-conspirators used slightly lesser grade or altered cards– and sealed them in holders themselves, slapping PSA labels on the front. The serial numbers on the holders matched the cards, another disturbing element of the scam.
“It was so much money,” he recalled thinking when Craig delivered the news. “I was devastated. I was so naïve and so stupid.”
Craig gave the collector the name of an FBI agent and found that McNeil was not a stranger to the Bureau.
“So I contacted the FBI agent and he said ‘yes, we know about this guy’.”
In fact, the probable cause affidavit in McNeil’s case charges that the scheme had begun four years earlier.
The collector sent the agent a list of the cards he’d bought, but he was also able to retrieve security video from his office showing him completing the deals with McNeil, complete with cash being counted.
“I was like ‘how much more evidence do you need’?” he recalled, but he says he was told the video wasn’t close or clear enough to pinpoint the specific cards he says he sold during the meetings.
He met with the FBI at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago that summer and retrieved the cards from PWCC.
“We went over to the PSA booth and they confirmed everything to be fake.”
He then gave the cards to the FBI, which suggested an undercover sting operation at the collector’s office but that was a step he says he didn’t feel comfortable with.
“I said I have a wife and three kids. I have a business. Live is good. It was as lot of money but it didn’t ruin my life. I just felt like this was a life lesson for me and I should just let it play out. If there was a way I could recoup the money later, great.
The hobbyist says he made back the money he lost by buying and selling cards during the card market’s meteoric rise during COVID but he’d still like to get back what he says McNeil stole from him.
As stated in the affidavit, McNeil is accused of being part of a conspiracy of fake cards and fake holders, although no other arrests have been made so far.
“They think he was part of some larger network,” the collector said. “They think he was almost more like the runner.”
PSA has since deactivated the cards known to have been sold by McNeil.