To create a fake Billy Sims Heisman Trophy, sports memorabilia collector John Rogers apparently thought he could just swap out the nameplate on a “poor man’s Heisman” he had bought years earlier.
But Rogers ignored the dent on the left side of the trophy base, the scratches and other marks. And he didn’t even bother to replace the missing screw from the original nameplate, court records show.
Now Rogers, of Arkansas, has been charged in Chicago with altering an honorary Heisman Trophy given to announcer Al Helfer in 1960 to make it look like the college football trophy Sims won in 1978. Rogers then allegedly used it as collateral on a $100,000 loan. The feds say that was just part of Rogers’ scheme to scam $10 million out of investors, banks and customers.
In a Facebook posting Monday, Rogers said of the charges, “nobody is to blame here but ME.” He also blames a “cocaine addiction” for his mistakes.
“I made hugely regretful, shameful mistakes, clouded in the daily haze of drug addiction, that I am ready to acknowledge and accept,” Rogers wrote.
Though Helfer and Sims are not named in the charging document, a 96-page search warrant application filed in Chicago in 2014 and obtained by the Sun-Times lays out the details of Rogers’ alleged scheme. The feds charged the 43-year-old with wire fraud in an information filed late last week. No attorney has filed an appearance on his behalf, and no court date has been set.
However, the filing of an information tends to signal an intention to plead guilty.
Rogers was the owner and president of Sports Card Plus and Rogers Photo Archive LLC. His company began purchasing photo archives of magazines and newspapers across the country “on a large-scale basis” in 2009, according to the search warrant application. Among them was the photo and negative library of Sun-Times Media, then owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, though the newspaper retained the copyrights.
Lawyers for Sun-Times Media later complained that Rogers infringed on that copyright by offering the photos for sale on his website.
The criminal charge follows a years-long FBI investigation into sports memorabilia auction houses such as Mastro Auctions in the western suburbs. Doug Allen, the former president of Mastro Auctions, was sentenced to 57 months in prison last February for his role in a scam to trade phony memorabilia. Court records and testimony indicate that Allen tried to cooperate with the feds against Rogers. However, Allen felt guilty and revealed his cooperation to Rogers.
In turn, Rogers cooperated with the feds against Allen.
The feds say Rogers purchased the Helfer Heisman for $42,500 from Allen’s Legendary Auctions in 2009. It was described in one court record as a “poor man’s Heisman” because it was given in an honorary capacity to a man who served as master of ceremonies for the Heisman banquet for more than 20 years. Rogers then allegedly replaced the nameplate and created a letter dated March 9, 2009, that appeared to be signed by Sims, attesting to the authenticity of the trophy.
Rogers also sent an unnamed investor an email in 2011 indicating the trophy was worth between $175,000 and $225,000, the feds allege. It was revealed as a fake after a business partner began to research the trophy’s authenticity and sent a copy of the letter signed by Sims to Sims’ business manager.