Former sports memorabilia dealer and photo archivist John Rogers was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison plus three years of probation in a Chicago federal courtroom on Wednesday. He’s also been told to pay $23 million in restitution to victims. The North Little Rock, AR man faces what’s believed to be the most severe punishment for any sports collectible-related fraud in history.
Rogers, who once owned a T206 Honus Wagner card and set up at the National Sports Collectors Convention where he sold photos culled from newspaper archives, was returned to federal custody in Chicago. He’s been behind bars since FBI agents discovered last month that he was continuing to sell bogus items even after pleading guilty to one count of fraud in connection with the long-running case.
The 44-year-old former college football player and card shop owner created an elaborate, ongoing Ponzi-style scheme in which he forged collateral documents to obtain millions of dollars in loans from friends and financial institutions, supposedly to continue buying newspaper archives. In many cases, those loans remain unpaid. Rogers’ business interests had evolved from cards and memorabilia to purchasing the physical archive of old photographs owned by newspapers across the country. In return for digitizing the images and returning them to the papers, Rogers would be given the rights to sell the photos to collectors.
During raids on his home and business, FBI agents uncovered dozens of fake vintage jerseys, phony Mickey Mantle cards, a fake Scottie Pippen All-Star Game MVP trophy and non-genuine autographed material. The government’s original charge was one count of fraud stemming from Rogers’ sale of a Heisman Trophy he touted as real when it was actually a ceremonial edition that Rogers had altered but prosecutors uncovered a far deeper scam that played out over several years and continued until just weeks ago.
Among his creditors is Mary Brace, the daughter of long-time Chicago sports photographer George Brace who spent six decades taking photos of baseball players who passed through the city. Rogers bought the collection in 2012 for over $1.3 million with the idea he’d make digital images for Mary Brace in exchange for the photos. Rogers defaulted on the deal and although Mary Brace won a $780,000 judgment, she’s among a long list of creditors Rogers owes. According to the Chicago Tribune, 27 boxes were recovered during the FBI raid and they sold at auction for $46,500. Mary Brace told the court in a letter that she was hoping the sale of her father’s archive would provide a retirement nest egg. “My dad devoted his entire life to this collection, and Rogers told me he was going to honor it,” she wrote.
According to Arkansas Business, Rogers was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit Wednesday as he spoke for over 40 minutes during Wednesday’s sentencing, admitting guilt but hoping for a seven-year sentence. Judge Thomas Durkin rejected that plea, stating “society needs to be protected from you,” and called his actions “monumentally stupid.” He allowed Rogers to be transferred to the federal prison camp in Millington, TN, about 2 1/2 hours from his family in Arkansas. Under federal guidelines, it’s likely he won’t serve the entire 12 years before being eligible for release.
Rogers’ attorney had indicated a cocaine addiction and possible football-related trauma had impacted his decision-making but Durkin stated “I don’t believe the crimes were based on addiction or mental condition. There was no other reason but greed.”