Those fake autographs seized by the FBI during the investigation of sports memorabilia fraudster John Rogers are doing some good.
More than 100 bats and dozens of baseballs carrying phony autographs were donated to an inner city youth baseball program on the south side of Chicago. Teenagers who play in the Amateur City Elite (ACE) program received the new Louisville Slugger bats and Rawlings baseballs, which had the signatures removed or crossed out.
The items were among those recovered in a raid of Rogers’ office and home in Arkansas a few years ago. Rogers later admitted in a plea agreement that he carried out a fraud scheme between 2009 and 2014 through his two Arkansas-based businesses, Sports Card Plus and Rogers Photo Archive LLC, resulting in millions of dollars in losses to investors, customers and financial institutions. He was sentenced late last year to 12 years in prison. The fake autographs that were uncovered included Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle as well as more current stars like Albert Pujols.
“At the start of this case, I had advised my prosecutor that if we ever come upon large amounts of seized material that we can make good on—such as these bats by removing the signatures—I said that maybe at the end of the case we get a restitution of forfeiture order so that we can donate the bats to some good cause,” said Brian Brusokas, an agent with the FBI’s Chicago Division, which investigated the Rogers case.
For some young players, it was a rare opportunity to use a new bat. The Chicago White Sox sponsor the baseball program and several representatives from the team and the FBI were on hand last week to turn the items over the speak to the players and coaches.
“Our ACE kids have to perform academically and athletically,” noted Anthony Olivo, manager of youth baseball initiatives for the Sox. “We offer a safe environment to get them off the streets and on a narrow path and provide them an opportunity they might otherwise never have.”
“People that are working on this program every single day, they’re the heroes,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Sallet. “They’re making sure they’re giving these kids an opportunity. The kids in these neighborhoods are incredible kids. If they’re given an opportunity and they’re given good guidance, they will succeed.”
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of fraud in the industry, just like in any billion-dollar industry,” Brusokas said. “We can’t undo John Rogers’ crimes,” he added, “but being able to donate these bats and balls to a worthy cause is something we can all feel good about.”