Bill Mastro is a key figure in the sports memorabilia industry’s evolution from sleepy hobby to a billion-dollar industry. For more than a decade, Mastro and his Mastro Auctions dominated the hobby. Mastro brought a sense of professionalism to the hobby – his company was among the first to offer online auctions and his slickly produced catalogues were collector’s items themselves. By the mid-2000s, Mastro Auctions was pulling in about $50 million a year in gross sales.
But it all came crashing down after the FBI launched an investigation in 2006 that focused on shill bidding and the sale of bogus sports and historic memorabilia. Mastro Auctions went out of business in 2009 as a federal grand jury in Chicago examined evidence and three years Mastro and two associates – Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos -- were charged with fraud in a 14-count indictment. The indictment not only claimed Mastro had engaged in shill bidding, but had also knowingly sold bogus items, including a trimmed rare and valuable T206 Honus Wagner card and fake Elvis Presley hair.
Michael O’Keeffe of the Daily News sports investigation team talked this week with New York attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who is not only a well-regarded lawyer and radio host but also an avid baseball card collector. Jeff has represented a variety of industry executives and others who have been involved in the case against Bill Mastro, who pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in 2013 and will be sentenced August 20 in Chicago federal court.