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Law of Cards: Government Seeks 20 Months for Bill Mastro

Law of Cards: Government Seeks 20 Months for Bill Mastro

Two weeks ago, Bill Mastro’s counsel filed a memorandum with the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago seeking a sentence of probation instead of prison time for his involvement in shill bidding. On August 13, the Government responded that probation was too lenient, and the proper sentence should be a 20-month term of imprisonment.

The point of Mastro’s sentencing memorandum was to get as light of a sentence as possible. To accomplish this, Mastro’s counsel recounted his goods deeds, and unfortunately included gag-inducing section titles such as, “A Lifetime of Compassion, Kindness, and Generosity.” In response, while the Government’s memorandum conceded Mastro was involved in charitable acts, it refocused the issue to the harm he committed:

To impose a lesser sentence, such as probation, would suggest that defendant’s decision to commit himself to charitable ventures – rather than ending the fraud - was somehow a valid one. When in reality good works for certain people does not excuse defrauding others. See United States v. Vrdolyak, 593 F.3d 676, 682 (7th Cir. 2010) (Charity is not a “get-out-of-jail card.”).

In his sentencing memorandum, Mastro’s counsel also relied upon Mastro’s role as a “trailblazer in legitimizing the sports memorabilia industry” to seek a more lenient sentence. The Government’s response, however, questioned his leadership in the hobby, noting Mastro “manipulated auctions for seven years, which at a minimum fraudulently manipulated the value of items in the industry.”

Most compellingly, the Government attacked Mastro’s “trailblazer” status with two portions of a covert recorded conversation from May 6, 2008, between Mastro and a confidential witness. In the first part of the conversation, Mastro “expressed a disinterest in authenticity” of sports memorabilia:

Defendant: Second of all, I wanta sell stuff. I’m running a business here.

CW: Yeah, but . . .

Defendant: . . . I really don’t give a shit if the stuff’s real or not. Okay. I don’t care if its trimmed. I don’t care if it’s real. I, if I look at it and I think it’s real. I want the authenticators to look at it and think it’s real. You think that all these PSA cards were auctioning are, aren’t unaltered. They’re all altered. The alternation going on, it is unbelievable in our hobby right now. Okay. There’s not a sheet that gets auctioned off that isn’t cut up. Every sheets getting cut up. Goudies sheets, Diamond Star sheets, basketball sheets, every sheet you see in the auction is being bought by someone who is cutting them up.

Later in that same conversation, Mastro also admitted that he cut the Honus Wagner T206 that sold for more than any trading card in history, and in doing so increased its value:

Defendant: The Wagner, the Wagner cards been trimmed on the borders, sold for 2 and a half million dollars. You wouldn’t want that, that card? If somebody came to you and said to you [CW] here’s the Wagner Card . . .

CW: Yeah

Defendant: it’s a PSA holder, you don’t want that card? I do. I just don’t want it for 2 and a half million dollars. Okay. I want that card. I love that card. Okay. And I’m the guy that did it. I’m the guy that did it. And I want that card. What would I pay? Million and a half bucks. I’ll write the check tomorrow. Somebody can bring that card, flop it on my desk. I’ll write the check for million and a half bucks.

These transcripts contrast the mindset of Mastro now (remorseful and seeking a lesser sentence) with a less-contrite Mastro from 2008. I believe they also highlight what harm a “trailblazer” can do.

The Government also argued that time in prison is necessary because giving Mastro probation would send the wrong message:

Ultimately, the deterrence message that needs to be conveyed is that regardless of industry or position, those that cheat others and use inside information to their own advantage will be met with significant consequences. This deterrent message would be lost if the CEO of a company that oversaw a seven year scheme and destroyed records related to the scheme was sentenced to probation.

Early in its memorandum, the Government noted that the Federal Guidelines range for Mastro’s crimes are 57 to 60 months imprisonment, but that it was seeking a “below guidelines” sentence. The judge, however, is not bound by the Government’s proposed sentence of 20 months. Given the Government’s brief, it would not shock me if the final sentence is closer to 30 months.

The date for Mastro’s sentencing is August 20.

The information provided in Paul Lesko's "Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the "Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the "Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

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Paul Lesko has litigated complex and intellectual property actions for over 18 years. Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid card collector. He's also the author of the novel Gastric Bypass, available for purchase at Amazon. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

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