An elderly Colorado man is facing federal wire fraud charges for his alleged role in a scheme that involved counterfeit Michael Jordan trading cards and bilked collectors out of more than $800,000.
Mayo Gilbert McNeil, 82, was arrested Wednesday in Denver, the Justice Department announced in a press release. He’s accused of being part of a conspiracy to pass fraudulent sports cards off as real by imitating the grading system and shipping methods of an established sports memorabilia company.
According to the probable cause affidavit, McNeil targeted at least two sports card collectors: one in New York, identified only as “Victim-1,” and one in Michigan, identified as “Victim-2.” The affidavit also details the involvement of “Company-1,” described as a “third-party authentication and grading service for collectibles,” including sports cards.
The company, the affidavit says, assigns a numerical grade to an item from one to 10, with one being the lowest score. That grade reflects the card’s “comparative value among collectors,” the affidavit says. After assigning a grade, Company-1 “seals the card in a distinctive, tamper-resistant plastic case that encloses the card to preserve its condition and indicates its grade on an affixed label.”
Investigators say that from around April 2015 to July 2019, McNeil and others “agreed to execute and executed a scheme to enrich themselves” by falsely representing that the sports trading cards they were selling or offering for trade were authentic and “had achieved a certain grade from Company-1.” McNeil and his co-conspirators allegedly passed the fake cards off as real ones by using actual tamper-resistant cases “obtained” from Company-1, as well as Company-1 logos and grading labels.
According to investigators, they “communicated extensively through email” to carry out the scheme.
“How’s that new holder project going, anyway?” McNeil allegedly wrote a co-conspirator, identified only as Co-conspirator-1, on Aug. 24, 2015.
That co-conspirator apparently wrote to McNeil in November 2015 that he and another person “[i]n January are gonna [sic] travel cross country in USA with cards in the new cases.”
Co-conspirator-1 allegedly told McNeil at that time that he would be “making 5k on every deal.”
In May 2016, McNeil wrote an email to Co-conspirator-1 that now seems eerily prescient.
“[S]end me that money or a card that I can sell,” he allegedly wrote. “I’m sure you are still doing deals but am [sic] not using me because you are afraid that I’m being investigated. That’s cool, just send me something I can sell to make up for that.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, McNeil apparently obtained a fake ID from Co-conspirator-1 after a sports card store in Las Vegas determined that two baseball cards McNeil had sold were later found by Company-1 to be counterfeit.
“Throughout the conspiracy, the defendant has used a variety of email accounts to disguise his identity,” the affidavit noted.
Although investigators apparently believe that there are many more victims, the affidavit details only two of them, establishing “simply those facts necessary to establish probable cause.”
In the summer of 2019, Victim-1 first encountered McNeil through an online auction site. The victim was interested in buying two Michael Jordan trading cards from McNeil, who had represented that Company-1 had ranked them 10 out of 10. Despite first meeting the victim on the auction website, McNeil apparently suggested they conduct the transaction directly, and after he received $4,500 via wire transfer, McNeil sent the cards — later determined by Company-1 to be counterfeit — to Victim-1 in Manhasset, New York.
Victim-2 was targeted in 2017, according to the affidavit. After a successful transaction between them around February of that year, McNeil reached out to Victim-2 in June, asking if the victim was “interested in another [Michael] Jordan” that had been rated a 10 by Company-1. Rather than a sale, this victim proposed a trade, and in October, the victim swapped two sports cards of football great Tom Brady for two Michael Jordan cards from McNeil. The cards were sent and received by mail.
Company-1 again determined that the cards sent by McNeill were not authentic.
McNeil is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a potential 20-year prison sentence and financial penalties.
Investigators indicate that the plot extended well beyond the two victims identified in the affidavit.
“The transactions between the defendant [and victims] are just a representative set of transactions in fraudulent sports cards engaged in by the defendant and his co-conspirators,” the affidavit says. “The investigation has revealed that, as a result of the defendant’s scheme, he and his co-conspirators obtained approximately $808,500 in cash or authentic sports cards from their victims.”
The DOJ requested that all the paperwork in support of the affidavit remain sealed, as they discuss an “ongoing criminal investigation that is neither public nor known to the targets and subjects of the investigation.”
McNeil is expected to be arraigned in New York at a later date, the DOJ press release said.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told Law&Crime that no other arrests have been made.
Read the complaint here.
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