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Dealer admits he altered Honus Wagner baseball card

William Mastro

William Mastro

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Updated: May 11, 2013 6:26AM



CORRECTION: This story has been corrected. The original version included a photo of a different Honus Wagner card (T206 PSA 5 JUMBO Wagner) that had not been altered. The doctored card in question is a “Gretzky PSA 8” Wagner. The Sun-Times regrets the error.

The most valuable baseball card ever sold was doctored, the so-called “King of Memorabilia” has conceded.

But south suburban auction house owner Bill Mastro’s willingness to admit he altered the ultra-rare $2.8 million 1909 Honus Wagner cigarette card didn’t impress a federal judge, who on Tuesday refused to rubber stamp a plea deal that would have seen Mastro jailed for up to 30 months.

Mastro, 60, of Palos Park, is accused of using shill bidders to drive up the prices of sports memorabilia, conning collectors out of cash through his former business, Mastro Auctions.

He allegedly also sold a phony lock of Elvis Presley’s hair and a fake 1869 Cincinnati Reds Stockings trophy.

But it was his connection to the Wagner card that captured the imagination of sports fans. The card, once owned by hockey great Wayne Gretzky, last sold for $2.8 million in 2007.

Wagner — a Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop considered by many the greatest ever to play the position — refused permission for his likeness to appear on the American Tobacco Company card, halting its circulation after less than 200 were released. Only 57 cards are known to remain.

Mastro had denied doctoring the card to fraudulently improve its appearance and value, but according to a government court filing last week, he has now “candidly” spoken to investigators about how he “cut the sides of the ... Honus Wagner card despite prior statements to the contrary.”

He was ready to plead guilty Tuesday to using shill bidders under a deal with prosecutors that would have capped his sentence at two-and-a-half years.

But Judge Ronald Guzman rejected the deal, saying he wasn’t willing to have his hands tied in sentencing Mastro, who might otherwise face up to 20 years behind bars.

Guzman added he had recently received a letter from a man who claimed Mastro had “bilked” him on a 1998 deal for $10,000 worth of photos.

Mastro will now either have to stand trial — or agree to a plea deal that leaves the sentence in Guzman’s hands.



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