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Men Charged in Phony Sports-Memorabilia Scheme Spanning More Than a Decade

Among the allegedly forged items are paintings, baseballs, baseball bats, celebrity photographs and books, record albums and more.

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Per federal charges unsealed in Chicago on Thursday, three men have been charged in connection with a sprawling art and sports-memorabilia scheme that spanned from 2005-2020 and involved forged paintings by well-known artists and phony autographs from some of baseball's greatest athletes, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

In a 34-page indictment, federal prosecutors charged brothers Donald and Mark Henkel, 61 and 66 years old, of Ann Arbor, Michigan and 59-year-old Raymond Paparella of Boca Raton, Florida with wire fraud. Mark Henkel also faces a witness-tampering charge, as he allegedly convinced a co-schemer to provide law enforcement with a false statement. All men pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court.

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Among the allegedly forged items are paintings, baseballs, baseball bats, celebrity photographs and books, record albums and more, many of which ultimately sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlawful sales.

The Henkel brothers crafted false histories for the items, prosecutors claim, and also enlisted the help of Paparella and other co-conspirators to serve as "straw sellers" to obscure their participation as the various forged pieces were sold to collectors and galleries nationwide.

Damon Cheronis, an attorney for Paparella, told the Chicago Tribune that his client "vehemently denies engaging in the alleged fraudulent conduct" and "looks forward to the truth surrounding these allegations being presented in a court of law."

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According to the indictment, a Chicago-area auction house and art galleries and auction houses in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and London were all victims of the scheme.

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