www.redeyechicago.com/news/breaking/chi-plea-deal-denied-in-sports-collector-fraud-case-20130409,0,6401443.story

redeyechicago.com

Plea deal denied in sports collector fraud case

By Rachael Levy

Tribune reporter

6:04 AM CDT, April 10, 2013

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A federal judge today rejected a plea deal in which the former owner of what had been one of the country’s leading sellers of sports memorabilia and Americana collectibles was prepared to plead guilty to mail fraud.

U.S. District Judge Ronald A. Guzman had questioned why the plea agreement capped the possible sentence for William Mastro at just 2 ½ years in prison. Guzman set the case over until May when he indicated he would set a trial date.

Mastro operated an online auction house that billed itself as the  world’s leading seller of sports and Americana memorabilia was indicted last summer with three former executives in a fraud scheme that prosecutors say lasted more than eight years. The multimillion-dollar firm operated from offices in suburban Oak Brook, Willowbrook and Burr Ridge at various times but has since closed.

According to a court filing by prosecutors last week, Mastro had not agreed to cooperate with the government and testify against three others also charged in the case.

In that filing, prosecutors revealed that Mastro had admitted in discussions with the government that he had failed to disclose to bidders that he had altered one of the most expensive trading cards -- a 1909 baseball card depicting Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner. Prosecutors also said Mastro had also placed shill bids to jack up prices Those admissions “provide a strong deterrent message to others in this industry,” according to the filing.

Last July when Mastro was first charged, his lawyer, Michael Monico, said his client would plead guilty to one count of mail fraud.

“He was a pioneer in the sports memorabilia industry,” Monico said at the time. “He does and will accept responsibility for the conduct that has led to this case.”

Prosecutors also alleged that Mastro misrepresented the authenticity of hair his business claimed was from Elvis Presley.


rlevy@tribune.com