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Snapshot: A Guide to John Rogers’ Legal Problems

9 min read

After federal agents came calling at his business and home on Jan. 28, 2014, John Rogers lost control of his chaotic financial world. Investors, lenders and business associates began discovering their dealings with Rogers were tainted by fraud.

The known claims against the photo and sports memorabilia dealer total more than $45 million, not counting $49 million in requested punitive damages.

The rollout of lawsuits against Rogers began in California, but Pulaski County Circuit Court became the epicenter of courtroom activity.

San Francisco County Superior Court

Feb. 20, 2014

Mark Roberts of San Francisco and his nonprofit 33 Collections LLC file the first lawsuit against John Rogers after federal agents search and seize items from his business and home in North Little Rock.

Roberts alleges that Rogers knowingly sold him scores of counterfeit vintage baseball photos during 2006-10. The counterfeit claim is confirmed by FBI examination, according to his complaint.

The lawsuit seeks $2 million in damages from Rogers, his Sports Cards Plus Inc. and related ventures.

The son of George Roberts, billionaire financier and co-founder of private equity firm KKR & Co., Roberts operates the National Pastime Museum, a website for displaying his collection of baseball memorabilia.

Status: Originally set for trial June 22, the case is in a temporary holding pattern amid tentative settlement talks.

Pulaski County Circuit Court

July 11, 2014

Mary Brace of Chicago sues Rogers and his Sports Cards Plus to collect $765,000 owed on his purchase of the famed George Burke & George Brace Collection of photographic negatives.

The epic collection consisted of an estimated 250,000 original negatives. The images contained in the cache include more than 10,000 National and American League players, ranging from superstars to virtual unknowns, who played at Chicago’s Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park between 1929 and 1994.

Rogers failed to make a scheduled payment of $85,000 in April and also failed to provide her a digital copy of the collection per the $1.35 million sales contract.

Status: On March 11, Brace landed a summary judgment of $765,000 against Rogers, who was ordered to provide a digital copy of the collection.

Aug. 14, 2014

Angelica Rogers of North Little Rock sues for divorce, citing general indignities by John Rogers that rendered her condition of life intolerable and made it impossible for her to continue living with her husband after 18 years of marriage.

Status: An uncontested divorce is granted on Oct. 21, with sole ownership of the couple’s business property in North Little Rock and 12,400-SF house in the Park Hill neighborhood given to Angelica Rogers. He relinquishes ownership of Sports Cards Plus and affiliated ventures to her as well. Skeptics view the divorce as a move to protect assets from creditors.

Sept. 5, 2014

First Arkansas Bank & Trust of Jacksonville sues Rogers to recover $14.2 million on four loans in default, business debt that he personally guaranteed.

On Jan. 6, the bank lands a default judgment of $14.5 million as the unpaid interest on the loans continues to climb.

The bank scours more than a dozen lenders and creditors seeking to garnish any cash or assets of Rogers they might have in their possession.

Rogers is ordered to appear at an April 27 contempt hearing for failing to provide a list of assets and property as ordered in the default judgment.

The hearing is postponed, and Rogers is ordered on April 30 to provide a sworn list of assets and property to First Arkansas within 30 days. If Rogers fails to comply, he will be subject to arrest for contempt of court on the order of Judge Tim Fox.

The bank would later detail fraud allegations against Rogers in connection with two of the loans:

• June 22, 2012: $1.5 million used to buy the Hoffman collection, an eclectic archive of videos and thousands of digitized snapshots of 19th century advertisements and other historic images.

The bank later learned the actual purchase price was only $325,000. The loan was to be used exclusively to acquire the collection.

• April 3, 2013: $3.5 million used to help finance a purported $6 million acquisition of the Fritsch collection of old and rare baseball cards.

According to sources, the FBI deemed the cards counterfeit and seized the collection during its raid on Jan. 28, 2014.

Status: On June 8, the Pulaski County sheriff is ordered to arrest Rogers, with a bail provision of nearly $1.5 million. Rogers, 42, remains at large.

Nov. 14, 2014

First Arkansas Bank & Trust sues Sports Cards Plus, other Rogers ventures and creditors with competing claims against Rogers. The action, tied to the four loans in default totaling more than $14.5 million, also asks for a court-appointed receiver to oversee the Rogers assets.

This case will draw a line of creditors and business associates with financial claims against Rogers and/or claims on Rogers assets.

Red Alert Media Matrix Inc. makes successive, unsubstantiated cash offers of $59 million in January, $28 million in April and $18 million in June to buy the Rogers assets. Without verified funds and questions about its later inclusion of millions of shares of unregistered stock, Red Alert is rejected by Judge Chris Piazza.

Status: The case is ongoing as First Arkansas amended its original complaint on June 4 to update the list of parties with claims against the Rogers assets. Angelica Rogers, who personally guaranteed the bank loans, is added as a defendant. At last count, the judgment had grown to $15.2 million.

Nov. 21, 2014

David Hoffman of Santa Cruz, California, sues Rogers to collect $80,000 owed on the $325,000 sale of his namesake video and photograph archive in May 2012.

His complaint lays claim to the Rickerby Collection of photos and negatives of President John F. Kennedy taken by Arthur Rickerby.

Hoffman alleges that Rogers pledged the Rickerby Collection as collateral on the debt owed to buy Hoffman’s archive, which included his interest in “How Hitler Lost the War,” “Earl Scruggs: His Family and Friends,” “Sing Sing Thanksgiving” featuring B.B. King, “Making Sense of the Sixties” PBS series interviews, and thousands of digitized snapshots of 19th century advertisements and other historic images.

Status: Unresolved.

Dec. 19, 2014

Fairfax Media Management Pty Ltd. of Sydney, Australia, sues Rogers for breach of contract and asks for the return of its archives. Fairfax photos were being sold on eBay sites, although Rogers didn’t complete work on a digitized library as required under the contract.

The Fairfax archives include the Sydney Morning Herald and a string of publications in Australia and New Zealand, as well as some photographs from non-Fairfax sources.

Status: The court-appointed receiver of the Rogers assets, Michael McAfee, negotiates a settlement contract with Fairfax to complete the contract.

Dec. 31, 2014

Bank of Little Rock sues Rogers to recover $590,833 owed on a 2013 loan of $900,000. The bank accuses Rogers of loan fraud, diverting the money for purposes other than buying business equipment and leaving the bank without collateral.

Status: Unresolved.

Jan. 14, 2015

John Conner Jr. of Newport and his Holden-Conner Farms Inc. and Newport Archives Inc. sue Rogers to recover nearly $9.6 million related to five loans and a large unpaid bill.

The lawsuit outlines four deals involving alleged fraud by Rogers: a June 2013 loan of $1.8 million partially used to buy the “Greenwood Collection,” which didn’t exist; an October 2013 loan of $1.6 million used to buy the Marvin Newman photo collection, which didn’t cost $1.6 million; a June 2013 loan of $1.45 million as an advance against the pending sale of a 1924 Babe Ruth home run bat supported by bogus paperwork, a sale that didn’t happen; and an October 2012 loan of $700,000 to buy the Chicago Tribune photo archives, which didn’t happen.

The complaint also asks for $10 million in punitive damages to further punish Rogers for his “willful and intentional fraud and to deter others from engaging in similar misconduct.”

Status: Conner obtained a consent judgment against Sports Cards Plus for nearly $9.6 million. But the claims against Rogers and his JRS Cards Inc. are unresolved.

William “Mac” Hogan of North Little Rock sues Rogers for nearly $12.3 million connected with multiple acts of alleged fraud as part of a Ponzi-style scheme that often involved phantom transactions.

Hogan believes Rogers created a conveyor belt of bogus deals that lured him into continuing investments: Money collected from Hogan for later deals was used to repay him for earlier deals.

The complaint itemizes 11 allegedly phantom purchases that include sports memorabilia collections, the photo archives of The Oklahoman and a Billy Sims 1978 Heisman Trophy.

The complaint also notes that Hogan has a $2.17 million exposure on a personal guarantee associated with the four First Arkansas Bank & Trust loans and a personal guarantee on the Bank of Little Rock loan.

Hogan also asks for $39 million in punitive damages to deter Rogers from such future conduct.

Status: Hogan obtained a consent judgment against Sports Cards Plus for nearly $12.3 million. But the claim against Rogers is unresolved.

Jan. 30, 2015

George and Steve Demos of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and their Demos Enterprises LLC sue Rogers for $3.5 million and allege fraud in two 2013 transactions:

• The sale of a 1924 Babe Ruth home run game-used bat and supporting material to Rogers for $250,000 plus at least $2.75 million in revenue secured by a 50 percent stake in the Minnesota Star Tribune archive and a 25 percent stake in the Sydney Morning Herald Fairfax Archive.

Rogers is accused of creating fictitious emails that indicated George Demos authorized the sale of the Babe Ruth bat, selling the bat for far less than its value, keeping the proceeds and withholding payment to Demos.

• Loans totaling $375,000 with a $510,000 payout. The Jan. 23, 2013, agreement allegedly was secured by Honus Wagner, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle baseball cards and a 50 percent stake in the Charles Conlon Collection of historic sports images.

Status: Unresolved. Other defendants include Sports Cards Plus and Angelica Rogers.

Feb. 23, 2015

Marvin Newman of Jersey City, New Jersey, sues Rogers for breach of contract and the return of his photo archives, which included work that appeared in Life, Look, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and Smithsonian magazines.

According to the complaint, Rogers failed to pay Newman the $400,000 sales advance per the July 2013 agreement and fabricated a purchase agreement with Newman’s forged signature to defraud John Conner Jr. and Mac Hogan.

Included in the lawsuit was a letter dated Jan. 19 from Hogan that noted: “Mr. Rogers did sell both John Conner and I interests in Marvin Newman materials based on a bogus agreement he constructed indicating he had purchased a large collection of these materials. To say we were hoodwinked would be an understatement.”

Status: Unresolved.

Feb. 24, 2015

Christopher Cathey of North Little Rock sues Rogers for $433,890 tainted by fraud allegations. The claim is divided among a piece of the phantom purchase of The Oklahoman photo archives ($215,140), baseball card investments ($68,750) and $150,000 loaned in February 2014 to keep Sports Cards Plus afloat after the FBI raid a month earlier.

Cathey has a potential loss of more than $2.1 million from his personal guarantee of the First Arkansas loans.

Status: Unresolved.

April 10, 2015

Arthur and Paul Jaffe of North Bergen, New Jersey, file an ownership claim on some of the Rogers assets, including an unspecified stake in the famed Conlon Collection of glass-plate negatives that has drawn many competing claims.

The Jaffes also claim an ownership stake in the Detroit News archives and the Ponzini collection, which primarily consists of tens of thousands of professional baseball player photos shot on 35mm color film from the 1980s and 1990s by Michael Ponzini.

The Jaffes also have a $290,000 investment that Rogers personally guaranteed related to a collection of 750,128 vintage news photos and negatives.

Status: Unresolved.

June 5, 2015

Affiliates of Digital First Media of New York sue to recover the archives of 20 newspapers from John and Angelica Rogers.

The complaint alleges that both personally plundered the assets and failed to provide digital archives as promised. The lawsuit accuses them of fraud, breach of contract and selling its copyrighted images, and Digital First asks for the return of the newspaper archives.

The Digital First complaint alleges that Rogers “was not highly skilled, knowledgeable or experienced at successfully digitizing or scanning photographs using the business model he described to the plaintiffs.”

Digital First alleges that Rogers knew the business model he described to its affiliates for the creation of their digital libraries was not economically viable or sustainable.

Seven Digital First newspapers had written agreements in deals dated: October 2013, Denver Post, Colorado; November 2013, Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Contra Costa Times, California; Oakland Tribune, California; and San Jose Mercury News, California; January 2014, El Paso Times, Texas, in a deal that included the archives of the Herald Post, owned by the University of Texas at El Paso; and February 2014, Salt Lake Tribune.

Eleven Digital First newspapers in California didn’t have written contracts: Los Angeles Daily News, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Times, Whittier Daily News, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Redland Daily Facts, Hayward Daily Review, Tri-Valley Herald, East County Times, Alameda Times Star and The Argus.

Two other Digital First newspapers without contracts are the St. Paul Pioneer Press and New Haven Register, Connecticut.

Status: Unresolved.

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