Collectibles ‘heavyweight’ gets 57 months in memorabilia fraud case

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Prosecutors say Doug Allen of Mastro Auctions was not as helpful as he appeared to be. | File photo

When Doug Allen double-crossed the feds and told a friend out of guilt he’d been wearing a wire in hopes of a lighter prison sentence, the sports collectibles “heavyweight” said he’d be “f—ed” if the FBI ever found out.

But it did. And Allen’s friend apparently felt no such shame. That friend agreed to wear a wire against Allen, recording the former president of Mastro Auctions talking about just how bad it’d be if he got caught.

“Under no circumstance could I ever tell them that I, that you and I have had any of these conversations,” Allen said on that recording. “Cause I would be f—ed. It, my whole cooperation’s out the window.”

U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman said he’d never heard anything like it Monday as he sentenced Allen to 57 months in prison. The judge said Allen, 52, “schemed,” “deceived” and “lied” as he took part in a scam to trade in phony memorabilia and con collectors who bought goods from the auction house in the western suburbs.

Allen leaned forward in his chair as the judge sentenced him. When the hearing ended, Allen hugged sobbing members of his family in the courtroom.

The nearly five-year prison sentence is significantly higher than the 20-month sentence Guzman handed down in August to Bill Mastro, the owner of the auction house. But prosecutors said then that Mastro offered them “meaningful” cooperation in ongoing investigations. By contrast, they said any information offered by Allen must now be seen as “tainted and useless.”

The native of Hammond, Indiana, apologized Monday to federal investigators, his family and the auction house’s customers.

“I’m ready to face the consequences of my actions,” Allen said.

Allen pleaded guilty to wire fraud in August 2014. The former president and chief operating officer of Mastro Auctions admitted he joined Mastro in bidding anonymously on items to artificially drive up prices, sometimes up to a cap previously set by auction house bidders.

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A rare Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card once owned by Wayne Gretzky was allegedly altered by Bill Mastro, the owner of the former Mastro Auctions.

The men also trafficked in fakes. They failed to disclose to a buyer that an 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings trophy ball sold for $62,000 was shown in lab tests to be a fake made after World War II, and they sold a lock of hair they said was from Elvis Presley (it wasn’t). Mastro most notably altered the ultra-rare $2.8 million 1909 Honus Wagner cigarette card in 1986, admitting he secretly trimmed the sides of the card to increase its value ahead of its sale in 1987, prosecutors have said.

Allen later tried to right his wrongs — but he admitted Monday he “failed miserably.” After wearing a wire on a friend who was the target of a federal investigation, Allen’s attorney said he felt guilty and told his friend what he’d done. That friend was not named in court. However, Allen repeatedly referred to him as “John” on the March 2014 recordings. He is also described in court filings as “the person behind” Angel Moon Investment LLC, and as a business partner in a company Allen had been running at the time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Owens said it was dangerous for Allen to tip off his friend before the FBI raided that person’s home. But Valarie Hays, Allen’s attorney, said her client was caught on another secret recording telling a former Mastro consignor to tell the truth to the FBI. She said he did so 25 times in 45 minutes, and she played a portion of that recording in court.

Hays pointed to Allen’s many charitable works, as well as to family and friends who packed Guzman’s courtroom. Fred Colvin, Allen’s brother-in-law, said Allen “rescued a couple of young ladies” when he adopted two Chinese daughters with his wife. He said Allen “has a lot of respect from a lot of people in all walks of life.”

But Guzman said Allen appeared to reserve all of his honesty and decency for his personal life — “and has, in his business dealings, acted almost entirely the opposite.”

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