Michigan Brothers Nabbed Selling Fake Sports Memorabilia Out of Their Barn
Two Michigan brothers and a man from Florida have been charged with operating a massive forgery ring from a barn in Northern Michigan, selling fake art and sports items in several states.
According to authorities, Donald Henkel from Cedar, Michigan, and his brother Mark Henkel from Ann Arbor had been engaging in the selling of forged art and sports memorabilia like baseball bats, balls, and gloves all with forged signatures from some of the sport's greatest players like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, and Lou Gehrig.
Selling Counterfeit Merchandise for Roughly 15 Years
Authorities say the trio had been pedaling the fake merchandise from a barn outside Traverse City for about the last 15 years.
Donald Henkel allegedly purchased vintage-era bats, balls, and other items and then created the forgeries. Steve Grad with Beckett Authentications tells Sports Collectors Daily that Henkel was a master at forgery.
"Christy Mathewson baseballs, Babe Ruth signed bats, game-used bats. This guy could do it all,” Grad said. “He manufactured game bats. He got the lengths right, the specs, everything. I would call him a master forger."
The Henkel brothers would then use what is known as "straw sellers" who would then act as middlemen to sell the phony merchandise to auction houses. Raymond Paparella from Boca Raton, Florida, is accused of being one of those straw sellers.
Art, Sports, and Music Merchandise Counterfeited
In addition to the bogus sports memorabilia, fake Hollywood and music collectibles were sold as well. It was forged paintings by George Ault, one of which that sold for $330,000 that caught authorities' attention.
Authorities allege that the trio sold counterfeit merchandise to auction houses and galleries in Pennsylvania, New York, Chicago, Texas, Michigan, California, and London.