A Michigan man will be sentenced next month after he pleaded guilty to repackaging and selling baseball cards in resealed wax packs, including purported rare issues of Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky rookie cards and a 1916 Sporting News rookie card of Babe Ruth — all of which turned out to be counterfeit.
Bryan Kennert, 57, of Muskegon, was indicted on eight counts of wire fraud in March 2022 and pleaded guilty to the charges in May, according to court records from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.
Federal prosecutors accused Kennert of buying packs of baseball cards that he knew were resealed and selling them as originals from April 2019 to July 2021. Kennert also obtained loose cards that he packaged and resealed, according to the federal indictment.
If real, the cards featuring Ruth, Jordan, Gretzky and others would have been worth over $7.3 million, according to an analysis by Phil Endris of Baseball Card Exchange, court records stated. An authentic version of The Sporting News rookie card of Ruth alone had fetched $2.46 million in a November 2021 auction.
“Nearly worthless,” sports memorabilia authenticator Steve Hart, who helped uncover the fraud, said in a search warrant affidavit. “One hundred percent complete garbage.”
Kennert faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each count of wire fraud, according to The Detroit News. He was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, but it was reset for Oct. 19.
“Since the pandemic, we have seen a tremendous rise in fraud issues related to the (trading card) hobby,” FBI Special Agent Brian Brusokas, who specializes in investigating fraud involving sports collectibles and art, told the newspaper. “I suspect it is because of the spotlight that has been shined on the hobby as a result of the high dollar amounts being paid for sports collectibles.
“It draws people into the hobby at every level, not just the high end.”
Kennert’s guilty plea is the latest in a series of fraudulent actions involving sports cards over the past 35 years, according to court records. The story bounces from counterfeit cards made from a print shop in Asia to a couple who spent more than $43,000 over a six-month period at a Michigan antique mall on what they believed were rare vintage cards.
In 1992, Kennert, who was attending Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, allegedly sold bogus 1987 Fleer Will Clark rookie cards to postal inspectors who responded to a magazine advertisement the student posted, The Detroit Free Press reported. His dormitory room was raided by federal agents and postal inspectors.
The raid came after a previous run-in with authorities five years earlier.
For his May 1992 offense, Kennert pleaded guilty to mail fraud and trafficking in counterfeit baseball cards, The Associated Press reported. Authorities had seized between 4,000 and 5,000 fake cards in his dormitory room, along with a book titled Sportscard Counterfeit Detector by Bob Lemke.
Kennert’s roommate at the time, Taikong Tam, said that his father was a printer in Hong Kong. Tam told authorities that Kenner asked him to send baseball cards to Hong Kong to be copied, according to the Free Press.
Tam was not named in the federal complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
In 2014, Kennert was accused of trying to auction a box of 1969 Topps baseball cards that had been opened and resealed, according to court records.
“Ultimately, the cards were discovered to be fraudulent before they were sold,” Scott Bauer, a Department of Homeland Security special agent, wrote in a search warrant affidavit.
Kennert’s latest legal woes began after he rented a booth at the Anything and Everything antique mall in Muskegon and stocked it with baseball cards, the News reported.
In 2019, Andy Frisinger and his wife, Mary, were shopping for baseball cards when they saw cards in Kennert’s booth, prosecutors said.
Over the next six months, the Frisingers spent $43,354.94 on what they believed were authentic vintage card packs, Bauer wrote in the search warrant affidavit.
After buying some of the packs, Andy Frisinger noticed they appeared to be re-glued. A Jordan rookie card discovered in one of the packs was too large to fit into a standard top loader, Bauer wrote.
The couple decided to meet with Hart, the News reported. Hart, with more than 30 years of experience in authenticating packs, concluded that the packs had been “tampered with and resealed,” according to court records.
“According to Hart, the resealing was done poorly and consistently, leading him to conclude that it was done by the same person,” Bauer wrote.
In July 2021, investigators raided Kennert’s home in Norton Shores, Michigan, and seized 10 boxes of sports cards and memorabilia, a bag of counterfeit cards and framed baseball cards, according to a search warrant inventory.
Counterfeit cards seized included attempts at creating a T206 card of Ty Cobb, a 1957 Topps rookie card of NBA great Bill Russell, a 1963 Topps rookie card of Pete Rose, 11 rookie cards of NHL great Bobby Orr, 11 rookie cards of Jordan from the 1986-87 Fleer set, 45 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie cards, a 1914 Cracker Jack card of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, unopened packs of 1951 and 1952 Topps baseball, a 1933 Goudey card of Ruth, a 1954 Topps rookie card of Hank Aaron and a 1911 T205 gold border card of Cobb.
In addition to the bogus near-mint Ruth rookie, investigators found three of the same card in lower grades, according to the search warrant inventory.
“Kennert admitted he planned to sell the cards and sports memorabilia that were at his home,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Davin Reust wrote in a sentencing memo. “Indeed, Kennert told the victims of his crime that they could buy more cards from him or at his upcoming estate sale.”
In a letter he wrote to the court, Kennert said he had avoided legal problems for almost 30 years and asked for leniency and no prison time.
“I’ve been trying to find a decent job in the last year to get a head start on restitution,” Kennert wrote. “I just want to take care of my responsibilities and live the rest of my life in peace. I will not do anything else wrong the rest of my life.”