John Rogers knew it was wrong to make a fake Billy Sims Heisman Trophy to get a $100,000 loan.
The Arkansas man also knew it was wrong to show investors sham contracts to prop up his photo archive business.
But Rogers told a federal judge in Chicago on Monday: “I did it anyway.” And now Rogers, 44, faces significant prison time after pleading guilty to wire fraud in front of U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin. He said his motivation for scamming investors, banks and customers out of what the feds say was $10 million was “just greed.”
The feds charged Rogers last September and accused him of altering an honorary Heisman Trophy given to announcer Al Helfer in 1960 to make it look like the college football trophy won by Sims in 1978. Rogers then used the trophy as collateral on a $100,000 loan.
Rogers swapped out the trophy’s nameplate but ignored a dent on the left side of its base, as well as scratches and other marks. He also failed to replace a missing screw from the original nameplate, court records show.
His companies, Sports Card Plus and Rogers Photo Archive LLC, began purchasing photo archives of magazines and newspapers across the country “on a large-scale basis” in 2009, records show. 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 followed 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 year for his role in a scam to trade phony memorabilia. Court records and testimony indicate 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. And now, even though he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, federal prosecutors will likely recommend Rogers be sentenced to closer to eight years in prison partly because of that cooperation. His sentencing has been scheduled for Sept. 12.
The feds say Rogers purchased the Helfer Heisman for $50,363 in November 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 replaced the nameplate and created a letter dated March 9, 2008, 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. 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.
Rogers created other fake letters, certificates of authenticity, hologram stickers and stamps to help sell other pieces of memorabilia he knew were not authentic, according to his plea agreement. He also used some of the money he made through the scam to repay customers who caught on to what he was doing.