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Detroit Public Library to crooked Chicago auctioneer: Return our baseball photos

The Detroit Public Library is seeking the return of this composite photo of the 1894-96 Baltimore Base Ball Club. The mid-1890s team at one point boasted seven future Hall of Famers.

Convicted fraudster Doug Allen hasn’t quite grasped the concept of borrowing, the Detroit Public Library says.

It was OK for the 51-year-old Chicago-area businessman to take two historic baseball photos worth more than $20,000 from the library.

But he was supposed to give them back — not sell one and keep the other, the library says.

Allen, who worked in the sports memorabilia business, was already in legal trouble when he received the photos under a contract with the library to confirm their identities and appraise them.

He was charged with fraud in 2012 for rigging bids at Mastro Auctions, where he was president from 2002 to 2009. Allen pleaded guilty to the charge last year and is awaiting sentencing in federal court in Chicago.

But in early 2013 — about six months after he was charged in Chicago — the Detroit Public Library sent Allen 20 historic baseball photos to evaluate them for a potential sale by the library.

The library didn’t know of Allen’s legal woes here, a spokesman said.

The photos it sent Allen were part of a collection founded by the late Ernie Harwell, a legendary Detroit sportscaster who began donating baseball items to the library in 1966.

The library intended to auction the photos for the benefit of the Harwell collection.

In July 2013, though, library officials learned Allen had listed the items for bidding on the Internet without the library’s permission. According to a Feb. 25 letter from Detroit library official Mark Bowden to U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman, the library demanded the return of the photos.

Allen, of south suburban Lansing, sent back 18 of them in August 2013. Still missing were a “1894-96 Baltimore Base Ball Club Three-Time Champions” photo, valued at about $20,000, and a “1900 Philadelphia National Team” photo valued at $800 to $1,000, Bowden said in his letter.

He said the library filed a report with the Detroit Police Department and contacted the FBI in Chicago. FBI Agent Brian Brusokas discovered Allen had auctioned the Baltimore photo for $11,000, but the fate of the Philadelphia photo was unclear, according to Bowden.

In his letter, Bowden asked the judge for help in returning the two photos to the library, or getting the library compensation for the photos.

“We also wanted you to be aware of our experience with Mr. Allen as you determine your sentence,” the letter said.

Allen’s attorney, Valarie Hays, said, “Mr. Allen has accepted responsibility for his actions and at his sentencing, we will address any letters related to him.”