A judge has rejected a plea agreement from the former head of a sports memorabilia auction house who admitted to using shill bidders to drive up prices and to altering the most valuable baseball card ever sold.
William Mastro of Mastro Auctions admitted to doctoring the 1909 Honus Wagner cigarette card that was once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky. The card sold for $2.8 million in 2007.
According to The Chicago Sun-Times:
"Mastro had denied doctoring the card to fraudulently improve its appearance and value, but according to a government court filing last week, he has now 'candidly' spoken to investigators about how he 'cut the sides of the ... Honus Wagner card despite prior statements to the contrary.' "
Wagner, who played shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, is considered perhaps the best ever to play the position. In 1909, the American Tobacco Co. issued his likeness as part of a much larger set of baseball cards sold with packs of cigarettes. But Wagner, who didn't want kids to buy cigarettes to get the card, insisted it be withdrawn. Only about 200 were ever issued, and only 57 are known to exist today, according to ESPN.
Mastro, charged with mail fraud, agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a prison term of no more than 30 months, says Bloomberg, quoting an April 2 court filing. If convicted at trial, Mastro faces a possible 20-year sentence.
The Sun-Times says Mastro, 60, also allegedly sold a phony lock of Elvis Presley's hair and a fake 1869 Cincinnati Reds Stockings trophy.