What is going on in the autograph industry?

By Peter J. Nash

March 4, 2015
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It’s not a baseball memorabilia dispute but every baseball collector will be familiar with the names of the characters getting dragged into the RR Auction class action lawsuit. The litigation, initiated by collector Michael Johnson, has been brewing for over three years in Santa Barbara Superior Court and the lawsuit is on track to receive California class certification in the next few weeks. Take a look at your PSA/DNA LOA’s and you’ll see the facsimile signatures of the so-called experts who have been dodging subpoenas in the case for months now including PSA PresidentJoe Orlando; Pawn Stars regular Steve Grad, and John Reznikoff. Even the former kingpin of the memorabilia and auction industry, Bill Mastro, is on the list to be deposed as he awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to mail fraud last year in a Chicago Federal Court.

Orlando and Grad are still currently evading service of subpoenas while the deposition of PSA authenticator Bob Eaton has been up on a video link at the RR Auction lawsuit website since January. Grad’s video-taped deposition is highly anticipated in the hobby considering he fabricated his professional bio and was exposed lying under oath about his education in another litigation. The deposition of Eaton, who is also the owner of RR Auctions and claims to do $25 million annually in revenue, is a must-see for anyone who buys, sells or collects autographs. One collector who watched the video told us, “It’s hard to believe that a PSA/DNA LOA with his name on it could be worth the paper it’s written on after watching that video.”

Eaton’s name and facsimile signature were recently reported as having been removed from PSA/DNA LOA’s and sources have confirmed that recently issued PSA certifications make no mention of Eaton. In his deposition Eaton said he was no longer affiliated with PSA and that his company no longer offers a “lifetime guarantee” or even letters of authenticity on items they sell. Eaton couldn’t recall who prints his monthly auction catalogs and also couldn’t remember filing lawsuits within the hobby and against former employees.

Bill Mastro was instrumental in bolstering the careers of authenticators (l to r) Steve Grad, John Reznikoff and Roger Epperson. Epperson was recently exposed for authenticating a large group of Michael Jackson forgeries some of which ended up in RR auction sales. Many of the forgeries were sourced to actor Corey Feldman but the actor denied ever owning them and claimed a photo accompanying the forgeries had his head photo-shopped onto the image (right).

Eaton also said he had no knowledge of his “entertainment expert” Roger Epperson authenticating or consigningMichael Jackson forgeries to his auction house despite evidence suggesting that he did. Eaton’s consignment director, Elizabeth Otto, however, admitted under oath that Epperson and PSA experts Grad, Reznikoff and Eaton consign their own authenticated materials to the New Hampshire auction house. Otto also stated that the autograph submission protocol at RR and PSA/DNA is “anonymous” and that experts do not know the identity of consignors, but sources indicate that internal RR documents contradict Otto’s testimony.

Otto also said that Bob Eaton was not on the “PSA payroll” or compensated by PSA for having his name and signature appear on PSA LOAs but she could not directly answer why Eaton would work for PSA without compensation. In her deposition Otto also claimed that William Boehm, another associate of Bill Mastro whoplead guilty and is also awaiting sentencing in the Mastro case, had acted as the webmaster and outside IT consultant for the auction website. RR’s Vice President Bobby Livingston went a step further in his deposition and said that Boehm was a freelancer who worked for RR and “oversees the function of the auction software.”  Boehm was working for RR after he was indicted for lying to FBI agents about destroying auction bidding records and company computers for Bill Mastro.

As one collector told us after watching all of the RR video testimony, “This class action lawsuit really shows the behind the scenes collusion between the auction houses and the third-party authenticators.”  Another veteran collector said, “This very well could be the beginning of the end for PSA/DNA.” But if that’s the case, what is the RR Auction class action really all about and how is PSA/DNA involved in the litigation? And why are the lawyers who represent PSA and its parent company, the publicly held corporation Collectors Universe (CLCT), also representing Bob Eaton and RR Auctions?

The RR Class Action lawsuit website details the items purchased by Michael Johnson which were rejected by PSA/DNA including alleged autographs of The Eagles, Eric Clapton and the Moody Blues.

The original underlying claims made in the lawsuit relate to collector Michael Johnson’s RR auction purchases of over $100,000 of autographed Rock n’ Roll memorabilia including album covers, guitars and drum heads allegedly signed by the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Paul McCartney, Cream, Eric Clapton, theMoody Blues and the Rolling Stones. According to the complaint and the lawsuit website, Johnson had all of the material sent to PSA/DNA for letters of authenticity to be issued, but all of the items were deemed non-genuine by PSA and expert Steve Grad.  After he was notified that the items he won from RR were failed, Johnson complained to Eaton and RR vice president Bobby Livingston and subsequent email exchanges between Livingston and his boss show that Eaton called Johnson a “nut case.” The exchanges also reveal that RR had discussions with PSA which resulted in another email exchange which referred to Johnson’s items and stated: “PSA-Now They Are Real.”

A portion of an email between RR owner Bob Eaton and VP Bobby Livingston reveals that PSA/DNA reversed its opinions on the items they failed. The RR email states, "PSA-Now they are real."

The email exchanges were turned over to Johnson’s attorneys in discovery and they reveal the inner workings of the auction house’s authentication process and the incestuous relationship between RR and PSA/DNA, the company that auction house owner Bob Eaton has served as an expert for and is listed on hundreds of thousands of letters of authenticity. RR didn’t immediately refund Johnson’s money and in doing so, RR and Eaton opened up the door for the filing of the class action lawsuit amid claims that many other California residents who bid on items in RR’s auction sales were also the victims of fraud and deception that stemmed from the authentication processes utilized and manipulated by RR and PSA/DNA. A closer examination of the email threads turned over by RR also reveals that the documents received in discovery may have been doctored or fraudulently altered to delete information which included direct email exchanges between RR and PSA/DNA including its President Joe Orlando and senior authenticator Steve Grad.  Adding to the controversy and conflicts of interest is the fact that RR and PSA/DNA are represented by the same attorneys, Keith Attlesey and Suzanne Storm of the California lawfirm Attlesey & Storm.

While Bob Eaton's name and signature have been removed from PSA/DNA LOAs, he still appears as an expert on Jimmy Spence's (inset) website for his company JSA.

While Eaton still appears as an expert on Jimmy Spence’s website for the authentication company JSA, his name and signature appear to have been removed from the PSA/DNA LOAs after he was noticed for his deposition back in October. The last LOA we could find with his facsimile signature was issued in November of 2014.  Eaton’s name had appeared on PSA/DNA LOA’s under the Collectors Universe umbrella for over a decade since he joined PSA in late 2003.  Prior to 2004, the PSA/DNA letters only included the names and signatures of Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad but by 2005 Spence had left PSA and the new LOA’s issued by the company included the names of Grad, Reznikoff, Zach Rullo, Roger Epperson and Eaton as the members of the “PSA Authentication Team.”

It is interesting to note that Eaton and the PSA team authenticated scores of Babe Ruth forgeries that were sold by Mastro Auctions and MastroNet during that same time period and it is no surprise that Bill Mastro, the godfather of the third-party authentication system, is listed on the class action website for an upcoming deposition.  It was Mastro who was instrumental in installing Jimmy Spence and ex-Mastro employee Steve Grad as the lead authenticators for PSA/DNA and it was Mastro and his MastroNet partner Rob Lifson who devised language and regulations in the MastroNet catalogs between 2000 and 2003 which insulated the auction house from liability for selling forgeries and successfully set up a system to market and distribute forgeries throughout the hobby with little recourse for collectors.

Bob Eaton was included as a PSA/DNA expert on all LOAs issued by Collectors Universe from 2005 until 2014. After Eaton was noticed for his deposition in the class action lawsuit, his name stopped appearing on PSA/DNA LOA's as evidenced on a January 2015 LOA (right). Eaton's facsimile signature appears on a 2005 PSA/DNA LOA certifying a Babe Ruth forgery as a genuine signature (right) .

There has been little in-depth reporting about the Johnson case and the “hobby press” hasn’t really acknowledged the legal wranglings.  Most of the chatter about the case has surfaced on autograph forums and long-time PSA supporter, Steve Cyrkin, made the most notable public comments about the case recently before he was added to the class action website’s list of individuals scheduled to be deposed. Cyrkin addressed the lawsuit and said:

“If you’re perplexed why this lawsuit was filed, since R&R offered to refund Johnson’s money and all grading and shipping fees, this may make it easier to understand:  There’s a California law covering signed sports memorabilia, Calif. Civil Code 1739.7, that specifies 10-times losses plus legal fees and costs for selling fake signed memorabilia. I hear it has been successfully used in cases involving non-sports signed memorabilia as well. I think that Johnson is trying to use this law to try shakedown R&R. R&R offered Johnson his money back and more according to the deposition testimony, so I can’t imagine any judge or jury awarding a civil penalty. I think that at best all Johnson will get is what’s specified under R&R’s terms and conditions in force when he bought the items.”

Cyrkin even published the California statute he was referring to which states:

“(g) Any consumer injured by the failure of a dealer to provide a certificate of authenticity containing the information required by this section, or by a dealer’s furnishing of a certificate of authenticity that is false, shall be entitled to recover, in addition to actual damages, a civil penalty in an amount equal to 10 times actual damages, plus court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, interest, and expert witness fees, if applicable, incurred by the consumer in the action. The court, in its discretion, may award additional damages based on the egregiousness of the dealer’s conduct. The remedy specified in this section is in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other remedy that may be provided by law.”

Cyrkin made his public statements just before he lost three motions in California Superior Court as a defendant in a defamation suit filed against him by autograph dealer Todd Mueller of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Mueller’s suit alleges malicious defamation and business interference and sources familiar with that litigation allege that documents obtained in discovery by Mueller’s attorneys (the same firm representing Johnson) evidence collusion between PSA/DNA and auction houses and also suggest that Cyrkin, Orlando, Grad, Epperson, Reznikoff andJimmy Spence of JSA worked in concert to destroy Mueller’s reputation and his business to further their position as a monopoly in the authentication industry.

Cyrkin, who is a co-founder of PSA and currently employed by the company in its coin division declined comment about his public statements regarding Johnson’s alleged “shakedown” of RR Auctions. Cyrkin is the moderator of the website Autograph Magazine Live and is known throughout the hobby as a notorious seller of forged itemsthrough his now defunct company Starbrite Autographs. Cyrkin has also claimed in court papers to have several mental disorders and he also has as a history of legal troubles including a $500,000 judgment entered against him by the Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co. for committing insurance fraud. Johnson and his attorney,Dugan Kelly, declined to comment or respond to Cyrkin’s allegations of a “shakedown” but did say there could be additional filings in the class action suit against RR later this week.

The depositions of Bob Eaton, Bobby Livingston, Bill White and Elizabeth Otto are currently on the RR lawsuit website (top row). On deck are (l to r) Steve Grad, Joe Orlando, John Reznikoff, Steve Cyrkin and Bill Mastro.

Hauls of Shame interviewed several parties familiar with the details of the RR class action and the Mueller litigation who disagree with Cyrkin’s commentary and, based upon those interviews, we’ve determined that there are multiple issues that could interest the FBI in relation to the RR Auctions and PSA/DNA:

1. Allegations of collusion between RR Auctions and PSA/DNA.

2. RR’s alleged sale of bogus autographs accompanied by RR and/or PSA/DNA LOA’s.

3. Allegations that RR Auctions’ office manager Karen “Kay” Burris may have been a murder victim contrary to reports that she committed suicide just weeks after RR filed police reports and a lawsuit against her alleging the embezzlement of $111,000. Sources say that Burris had first-hand knowledge of fraud and shill-bidding at RR and that Eaton and RR Auctions settled out of court with Burris’ family after her death.

4. Allegations of collusion and racketeering between PSA/DNA employees and major auction houses.

5. Questions about the professional qualifications of PSA/DNA authenticators and how its “so-called experts” could render opinions on the 400,000+ autographed items per year. In its 2014 Annual Report Collectors Universestates that PSA/DNA employs “6 autograph experts with an average of 25 years of experience in the autograph memorabilia market, as well as outside consultants that (they) use on a contract basis.”

Hauls of Shame has confirmed that at least two FBI agents have expressed interest in reviewing the RR class action lawsuit depositions as well as the upcoming depositions of PSA/DNA employees. Bob Eaton was asked in his deposition if he was currently being investigated by the FBI and he responded that he was unaware of any such investigation.  A Federal agent has also made it known to several hobbyists that the New York office of the FBI would like to hear from any collectors who feel they have been victimized by any third-party authentication company and said they can report their experiences by calling 718-286-7100. We requested interviews with Joe Orlando and Bob Eaton but neither executive responded to comment on the on-going litigation.

As far as the civil litigation is concerned, one major dealer with over thirty years in the autograph industry is skeptical that the RR class action could ever impact PSA/DNA or Collectors Universe in a significant way.  He told us, “I do not see depositions or a court case on the horizon, the parties (at PSA) that have refused service will continue to do so until they throw so much money at this that they will make it go away. Too much at stake to forfeit a monopoly, unfortunately that is the reality.”

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  • If it gets that far, it will be interesting to see what, if any, evidence is admissible by the court from a 3rd party who might be considered third party hearsay if there was no direct interaction.   Gets very tricky and I've see cases where none of it makes it in.and the question asked, if there is a juror, receives instructions to disregard the statement.  Depositions can and more often are used to impeach someone's credibility based on a line of questioning.

    A tricky question arises when the prosecution wants to admit an unavailable witness's statement because this conflicts with a defendant's right to question witnesses. This is known as a defendant's right of confrontation. Essentially, a defendant has a constitutional right to see, face-to-face, and hear the witnesses testifying against him in court. 

    Nonetheless, there are some exceptions but each court may have different viewpoints.  The wonders of the judicial system, anything can happen.

  • Well William Boehm will be giving a deposition in the Johnson/RR case, as he set this same system up for them.  The shill bidding system (Something that RR also objected to and were DENIED in the case)  When asked to provide the same records, all were destroyed according to the case details.  I also saw where Steve Cyrkin said this: Reply by Steve Cyrkin, Community Manager yesterday

    I believe Johnson's attorneys got the affidavit from her husband, and supposedly deposed him, but supposedly did not inform RRAuction that they were going to depose him. 

    He sure does not like to let facts get in the way when it involves his friends does it.

    If you go to the Johnson VS RR case in the Santa Barbara Superior Court house, look at civil case number 1397046 and look at the case details, you will see that what he says "might" of happened didn't go down at all

    03/20/2015 Objection, Filed

    Comment: - Defendant's Objections to Evidence Submitted in Support of Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Stay the Taking of Deposition and to Quash Deposition Subpoena for William Burris

    03/20/2015 Reply, Filed

    Comment: - Defendant's Reply re Motion to Stay the Taking of Deposition and to Quash Deposition Subpoena for William Burris and for Monetary Sanctions

    03/20/2015 Hearing

    Judicial Officer: Geck, Donna D

    Hearing Time: 9:30 AM

    Result: Held

    Comment: Ruling on Defendant's Objections-  DENIED

    Let's not report the facts though.... RR paid a lot of money to try to stop that deposition from happening, and were denied.  So what does Steve Cyrkin do, tries to tell people, "ohh, they went behind the back to take that... didn't inform them... "  what a LIAR he is!

    ALSO, when a person dies, before they can go before a jury, sworn testimony can be used in a court case.  Chris Kyle, the Navy seal was sued by Jessie Ventura, they had sworn papers and 6 hours of video deposition of Chris that was played for the jury because he was dead by the time the case went to trial, all were used in the case, and Jessie WON his case based on the fact that they were able to show the Kyle was a Liar.  So if these people are thinking that that a sworn and notarized affidavit can't be used in a court case, they are wrong!

    And he wonders why he's being sued. (Cyrkin)

    From the looks of it, Joe Orlando and Steve Grad have been ordered to show up to have their depositions taken, they have "failed to appear" so far, so a court date has been set for early FEB for a ruling on that and to depose more sanctions in the case.

    Joe Orlando and Steve Grad are also being represented by the same lawyers as RR.

    Steve Cyrkin always points it out when Todd and Nelson and Johnson are sharing the same Law firm, and alluded to how shady it is that they did it, so it should be pointed out that now it's going on with that team.

    ALL there for the reading, just look it up!

  • If the is the Govn't list that would be it.  Todd two others were also charged 

    Mark Theotikos, 51, of Addison, who was employed by Mastro Auctions between 1996 and February 2009 as vice president of auction operations and, later, vice president of acquisitions, was charged with six counts of wire and mail fraud. Both Allen and Theotikos are currently executives of Legendary Auctions, based in south suburban Lansing.

    William Boehm, 63, of Ballwin, Missouri was also charged.   Both have pleaded guilty and Theotikos is awaiting sentencing as is Allen.   Boehm was given a slap on the hand with a two year probation.

    Theotikos & Allen had moved to legendary, as most know.  Legendary Auctions is no longer up and running.  I can only surmise if I was a buyer from them, did they bring this practice with them.

  • I took a screenshot with my phone. Is this the list that you guys are refering to here?

  • opps, my bad for not letting the whole thing load.  There are some names on that list that I'd be asking some serious questions of as I'm not amused that they couldn't have figured it out that something shifty was going on perhaps.  The question would then become for every consignor that had only "one" shill bid, What happened to the item that was consigned?   2nd question; What was the consigned item.

    • DB, all 103 pages are there.  You can see every bidder, shill bidder, victim and amount.  

      Lot's of names on there too.  Owner of the Yankee's, most of PSA's people.  It's unreal.  Steve K's favorite person got taken for over 2 grand on one item, then the very next item for over 400 dollars. (page 18 first 2 items)  Keith Olberman got taken for over 6 grand by 3 different shill bidders. (page 86)  John Reznikoff is on there as a shill bidder for a lot of items and over 3 years (07,08 and 09)

      I also love how now that these guys have been caught, and are being hauled off to jail they are so sorry for what they have done. Allen's lawyer pointed out he's   “a good person who is deeply sorry for his actions”  

      Why is it, this come to Jesus moment didn't happen when they(Mastro and Allen) were screwing everybody over month after month?  They are only sorry because they were caught, tried, and convicted.  That is the only reason.  

      (in my opinion)

  • I feel it should be clear that only Mastro and Allen have been charged.  I'd like to think there is an explanation by others so I'd be careful before rushing to judgement.

  • DB-

    I agree.  I don't really understand shill bidding other then to make someone pay more then they would have otherwise.  I see some names mentioned over and over again as the consignor, bidder, and even winner so I don't know how anyone was affected there.  I just don't know how this plays out but it does seem this is Doug Allen's defense in the document so he seems to be admitting to this much.

  • On another note, the self proclaimed non-biased Cyrkin states;

    Don,

    Standing up for RRAuction is what got me on the list of people to depose on that website--I was on that list shortly afterwards--but I can't let this go without comment.

    That site said that they were going to put the depositions online before they were taken. And putting depos online before a case is over is not considered ethical by any attorney I've ever asked. No one looks good in a depo, but how would you feel knowing yours was going online before you were deposed?

    I'd judge a dealer or auction by what experienced collectors and professionals think of them. Not depositions.

    My name on the deposition list will probably be in bold after this. Maybe I'll even get my own section.

    There's already a lawsuit site waiting for me, www.stevecyrkinlawsuit.com

    If what Cyrkin said is true he has nothing to worry about.  I don't understand the logic it's fair to lie in blog's but not fair to be held accountable in court.

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