Civil contempt proceedings against John Rogers were put on hold this morning in Pulaski County Circuit Court. But the judge did give the green light to the sale of the famed Charles Conlon Collection of glass-plate negatives of professional baseball players.
Judge Chris Piazza decided to take no action on a civil contempt motion against the fallen sports memorabilia and photo archive dealer until a criminal case against Rogers for burglary and theft of property had run its course.
The contempt motion and criminal case are tied to a late-night weekend visit Rogers made to his former North Little Rock office in August during which he allegedly stole three hard drives.
North Little Rock police recovered two of the three 5-terabyte hard drives from his vehicle when Rogers was arrested in a traffic stop on Dec. 3. The 42-year-old businessman is out on bond pending trial.
An alleged serial fraudster, Rogers also is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation that became public after federal agents raided his business and home on Jan. 28, 2014.
The hard drives that he allegedly stole from his former Sports Cards Plus office at 115 E. 24th St. contained more than one million scanned photographs with metadata. The value of the digital images on the hard drives was estimated at $364,167.
Michael McAfee, the court-appointed receiver for the former business assets of Rogers, made the contempt motion against him because of his alleged illegal entry of the property and alleged theft of receivership assets.
Andrew King, attorney for the receiver, said his client would withdraw the civil contempt motion if Rogers would return the third hard drive.
Blake Hendrix, criminal defense attorney for Rogers, successfully argued that if his client were to do that it would violate his Fifth Amendment rights.
"I'm not saying John has the hard drive," Hendrix told the court. "If John had the hard drive, the act of producing it is incriminating."
Piazza was content to let the contempt motion lie for now, pending the outcome of the criminal case.
"But I can tell you, there will be consequences," Piazza said.
The hearing marked the second time Rogers has attended a court proceeding relating to his business troubles. He did not speak during the hearing.
Judge OKs Conlon Auction
Also Wednesday, Piazza approved the future auction of the Conlon Collection, which Rogers once owned.
The order allows sales efforts to proceed for an estimated 7,500 glass-plate negatives produced by photographer Charles Conlon (1868-1945).
McAfee indicated it will likely be summer before an auction is held.
The Conlon Collection that Rogers acquired in June 2010 numbered about 8,300 pieces. McAfee said he wasn't sure what happened to reduce the count to about 7,500 before he came aboard and inventoried assets.
"Some of the Conlon plates seem to have evaporated," McAfee testified.
Ownership of the collection is in dispute, with competing claims totaling more than 100 percent. But the only opposition to the sale was made by five people associated with Legendary Auctions of Lansing, Illinois: Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos, Bill Fulton, Amy Allen and Dale Huizena.
Referred to collectively as the Allen parties, they claim outright ownership of about 185 Conlon negatives, which largely consisted of images of Hall of Fame players. These glass plates were held in Illinois until a court-order led to their return late last year.
Steve Niswanger, attorney for the Allen parties, said his clients' plates represented the most valuable part of the collection and they would be financially harmed if the plates were included in the auction.
The Allen parties represent a combined 56 percent ownership claim, while the 185 plates they had represented about 2.4 percent of the collection.
Piazza said the particulars of who is entitled to receive what portion from the Conlon Collection sale can be addressed in the future. Until then, money from the auction will be put in the court registry.
"We need to have some closure and try to salvage something for the people who have a claim on the collection," Piazza said.
McAfee testified that he was advised the sale of the entire collection as a whole would bring more money than if plates were sold piecemeal.
What is the value of the collection?
"I don't know," he told the court.
Rogers once placed an $18 million value on it, which seems to be tied to projections from marketing prints from the collection.
Sources believe the collection should fetch something north of $2 million, twice what Rogers paid for the Conlon Collection and other assets owned by The Sporting News more than five years ago.