One of the historic treasures of early 20th century major league baseball is headed toward the auction block, but conflicting claims on the famed Conlon Collection still await courtroom resolution.
Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza green-lighted the future sale during a hearing Wednesday regarding the receivership of the collection’s former owner: John Rogers.
The hearing also served as an early skirmish among 10 parties with claims to partial ownership or secured interests in the Conlon Collection. The tangled claims are a microcosm of the chaotic business affairs of Rogers and his insolvent sports memorabilia and photo archives ventures.
Documents associated with the varied claims indicate that Rogers overpledged the Conlon Collection to secure debts and parceled ownership stakes to gain funds and placate creditors.
Viewed in its most sinister light, the sports memorabilia and photo archives dealer committed fraud along the way.
Rogers, an alleged serial fraudster accused of dealing in counterfeit memorabilia, remains under criminal investigation in the wake of an FBI raid on his North Little Rock business and home on Jan. 28, 2014.
Allegations of loan fraud are leveled against Rogers by the Bank of Little Rock and First Arkansas Bank & Trust of Jacksonville, which holds a judgment of more than $15 million against him and his business ventures.
First Arkansas is among the interested parties with a security interest claim on the Conlon Collection. Others include Mac Hogan, an Arkansas businessman and investor with Rogers, and George Demos, a Chicago-area businessman and avid collector of baseball memorabilia, both alleged fraud victims of Rogers.
Among those with a partial ownership claim on the Conlon Collection is Mark Roberts of San Francisco, a sports memorabilia collector who was the first to sue Rogers for fraud nearly two years ago. Roberts paid Rogers $1.1 million for an undivided 25 percent interest in the collection back in October 2010.
Arthur and Paul Jaffe of North Bergen, New Jersey, who also did business with Rogers, have claimed an unspecified ownership stake in the Conlon Collection.
The only parties to oppose the proposed sale of the collection are a group of Illinois residents with varied ownership claims totaling about 56 percent: Doug Allen, his wife Amy, Dale Huizena, Mark Theotikos and Bill Fulton.
All five are associated with Legendary Auctions of Lansing, Illinois. Doug Allen helped Rogers finance the Conlon Collection acquisition, and Rogers reportedly held an ownership stake in Legendary Auctions, which specialized in the sale of collectibles.
However, sources report that it was his ex-wife, Angelica Rogers, who owned a 22 percent piece of Legendary Auctions through her Angel Moon LLC.
The Allen group had physical possession of 185 Conlon plates bearing the images of some of the biggest names in pre-World War II baseball. Those negatives were returned to Arkansas late last year, although the Allen group maintained an ownership claim of those specific 185 plates, touted as the most valuable pieces.
Judge Piazza ordered efforts to sell the entire collection to move forward despite opposition by the Allen group. He said the particulars of who is entitled to receive what portion from the Conlon Collection sale can be addressed in the future.
Any money resulting from a sale will be put in the court registry for disbursement.
“We need to have some closure and try to salvage something for the people who have a claim on the collection,” Piazza said.
The Allen group’s claims to the Conlon Collection are connected with a series of documents detailing transactions with Rogers. Questions concerning that paperwork and other competing claims will be set for future argument before Piazza.
Other questions surrounding the collection may not receive answers.
The initial inventory of the Conlon Collection tallied 8,354 glass-plate negatives in 77 archival boxes when Rogers bought it in June 2010.
Four years later, the discovery was made that more than 500 plates were lost, stolen or sold.
“The how, why and when of that, who knows?” said Michael McAfee, court-appointed re-ceiver of the Rogers assets. “But we do know what’s missing, and they’re not all A-listers.”
The missing negatives of famous and less well-known baseball players from the original census of Conlon glass plates wasn’t uncovered until Rogers was removed from the operational picture of Sports Cards Plus and its affiliated ventures.
Mac Hogan, a big investor in the ventures, took the helm after Rogers was ousted in the weeks following the 2014 FBI raid.
At the direction of Hogan, the Conlon Collection was retrieved from Rogers and brought for safekeeping to a company-controlled warehouse. The boxes of glass-plate negatives had been kept in the basement at the grand 12,400-SF house that Rogers had built and his family had called home since 2010.
In a Sept. 14, 2015, affidavit, McAfee said the entire collection should have a value of $1.2 million to $3 million based on information from potential buyers and auction houses specializing in sports memorabilia.
Less than three months after Rogers entered the ownership picture, the Conlon Collection bore an amazing resale valuation of more than $8.4 million.
The number was courtesy of a marketing valuation report dated Sept. 15, 2010, commissioned by Rogers and made by Frank Ceresi of FC Associates of Arlington, Virginia.
The valuation made the $1 million acquisition by Rogers look brilliant, and he received more for the money than just the Conlon Collection, too.
Additional archived materials included The Sporting News Original Prints Library, an estimated 400,000 photos stored in 112 file cabinet drawers and 84 bankers’ boxes. The prints contained images from baseball, football, basketball, hockey and other sports.
Completing the roster of items purchased was an un-specified number of small archival boxes marked “Conlon original prints” and photo folders containing an estimated 18,000 miscellaneous sports negatives.
In return for all of the photos and negatives, The Sporting News also received a digitized copy of everything along with metadata.
The photo archive acquisition and digital library services agreement was made between Legends in Time LLC, doing business as Rogers Photo Archive of North Little Rock, and American City Business Journals Inc., publisher of The Sporting News in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The 14-page agreement contained a buy-back provision: “If at any time Rogers elects to directly sell the Conlon Glass Negatives, The Sporting News will be notified of such sale and have the right to match the best offer. If at any time Rogers elects to auction the Conlon Glass Negatives, The Sporting News can publicly bid on the collection, however, no matching right will be given.”
Rogers in Receivership, 2015*
*Represents the operations and assets of Sports Cards Plus Inc., Planet Giant LLC, Digital Stock Planet LLC and Photo Archive Partners along with the sports and celebrity memorabilia and collectibles of John Rogers and his ex-wife, Angelica Rogers, overseen by the court-appointed receiver, Michael McAfee.
Source: Pulaski County Circuit Court