From the outside it appeared to be a simple country barn, but authorities say inside was a scam factory.
Federal prosecutors have charged a pair of brothers with operating a wide-ranging program of counterfeit art and sports memorabilia from their Michigan barn and fooling auction houses and galleries across the country with convincing fakes.
Donald Henkel, 61, is accused of making counterfeit artwork for 15 years in a rural Michigan barn in a town of fewer than 100 people. Among the fake works he allegedly created were paintings by artists George Ault and Ralston Crawford, as well as missigned bats, balls and gloves by baseball legends such as Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Lou Gehrig.
Henkel’s 66-year-old brother, Mark Henkel, then hired a network of straw vendors, galleries and dealers across the country to reach out with compelling stories about the items’ provenance. prosecutors said.
A third man, Raymond Paparella, 59, of Boca Raton, Fla., is accused of serving as a straw seller, taking the counterfeit items to galleries and auction houses and collecting payment when they were sold, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Donald Henkel bought old baseball bats, balls and pens to make the fake autographed memorabilia appear authentic.
According to the Detroit News, A raid on the Henkel barn in 2020 found numerous painting supplies and unfinished counterfeit paintings.
“One of the fake paintings by George Ault was auctioned for over $330,000, the indictment says. Another fake, allegedly by Ralston Crawford, sold for $390,000. ”
An attorney for Donald Henkel declined to comment, and attorneys for Mark Henkel and Paparella did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Many of the counterfeit items were sold for more than $100,000 based on false stories supplied by the Henkels or the straw vendors, according to the indictment.
One of the fake Ault paintings was auctioned for over $330,000, the indictment says. Another fake, allegedly by Crawford, sold for $390,000. A baseball with a fake Honus Wagner signature sold for $121,000, prosecutors said.
One notable baseball memorabilia the group tried to sell was a baseball said to be autographed by Eddie Gaedel, who at 3ft 7 was the shortest person to ever appear in a major league game, and a single bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951 as a publicity stunt. He walked four pitches.
Among the victims were auction houses and galleries in New York, Chicago, London, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and California.
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/brothers-charged-with-running-elaborate-memorabilia-scam-from-their-michigan-barn-and-selling-fake-babe-ruth-and-lou-gehrig-baseball-bats-11650918132?rss=1&siteid=rss Brothers accused of carrying out an elaborate memorabilia scam from their Michigan barn – and selling fake Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig baseball bats