The owner of a sports memorabilia auction house who secretly altered a rare Honus Wagner baseball card to boost its value was sentenced to 20 months in prison.
William Mastro, 62, of Palos Park, Illinois, was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Ronald A. Guzman in Chicago. The former chief executive officer of Mastro Auctions pleaded guilty two years ago to a single count of mail fraud. He and three other men were indicted in 2012.
A charter member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Wagner played in the big leagues from 1897 to 1917, primarily for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
American Tobacco issued the card bearing his likeness in 1909 as part of a 524-card collection. Wagner, who didn’t want youngsters buying cigarettes to obtain his picture, objected to the card, which was then withdrawn from the set. Only about 60 are believed to exist, one of which sold for $403,664 last year.
Mastro was accused of altering the card and other memorabilia to increase their apparent value. He and two co-defendants were also accused of placing fake bids to drive up auction prices.
His ultimate goal was “to beat the competition and garner more business for his auction house and, in the end, more money for himself,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Dollear said in a press statement announcing Mastro’s punishment.
Mastro’s lawyer, Michael Monico of Chicago, said in a phone interview that he’d asked Guzman for a sentence of home confinement with a large amount of community service. Mastro is already part of a Catholic charity outreach program for homeless people in the city, Monico said.
“The judge agreed he’d done an extraordinary amount of good deeds in his life,” the defense attorney said. “But he felt the offense required a 20-month jail sentence.”
Mastro has been ordered to start serving that term by the end of November, prosecutors said.
The case is U.S. v. Mastro, 12-cr-00567, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).