Retired Chicago FBI agent spent career working on biggest sports memorabilia fraud cases

The wide world of sports is in full motion this time of year.

The NFL Draft is Thursday. NBA and NHL playoffs are underway.  The MLB is in full swing and auto racing is about to start up.

Each season, sports fans spend their hard-earned money on collectible items to commemorate the G.O.A.T. for that game or just their favorite player.  

In Wednesday's special report, Corey McPherrin introduces us to a local man who helped blaze the trail to keep you from losing your shirt. 

Thanks to sports legends like Michael Jordan, we all now know what a Nike is or a Converse.

A pair of Jordan’s game-worn shoes recently sold for $2.2 million because they are considered a collectible. 

"What's the theory as to why the collectible industry has exploded to the degree it has?" Corey McPherrin asked.

"It's something different," said Brian Brusokas. "This is an every man’s hobby. Every man and woman's hobby. You could get into this hobby at any price point."

Brusokas got in the game when he was just a kid. He saved up his lawn-mowing money to buy a Reggie Jackson baseball card for $65. 

"Reggie Jackson. He was my guy. I got to meet Reggie a few years back helping him out on something," said Brusokas.

As an adult, Brusokas was still in the collecting game, but in a much, much different role.

He is now a newly retired Chicago FBI agent. 

He graduated from Quantico in 2000 and went on to specialize in sports memorabilia fraud while working on the bureau’s art crime team.

While he says he’s not the first agent to do so, he is the one who picked up the ball and ran with it. 

"People would always laugh, "Hey, you’re the memorabilia guy, you’re the baseball card guy. Oh, eBay guy I would get all the time," said Brusokas. "It's everything from music to Hollywood to even to presidents. We’re talking, there's forged Washingtons, Lincolns, forged historical documents out there."

Corey McPherrin was able to see Brusokas' memorabilia-filled man cave to find out more about his career. 

"Here’s a Peyton Manning jersey," said Brusokas. "I had a funny discussion with him. We had an argument over this jersey."

"Because he thought it wasn't real?" asked Corey.

"Yeah," responded Brusokas. 

Brusokas said when he first mentioned that he was going to investigate sports memorabilia, it was met with a hardy round of laughs.

"Some people in the bureau were kind of like, ‘Ah, sports memorabilia, why we doing that?’" said Brusokas. "And I said, ‘Look at the money, this is next fine art. This is the next wine. This is a high-end collectible.' It's not something that should be poked fun at. There’s good people spending a lot of money on this."


And then along came the Mastro Auction House case, which turned out to be one for the record books. 

"This is the first federal shill bidding case ever done," said Brusokas. "And it’s the only federal shill bidding case ever done.

"Why is it the only one?" asked Corey.

"Because it’s a really tough theory to prove," responded Brusokas. "You need to have inside knowledge. You need to know the intent of someone pressing the button to bid."

In a nutshell, shill bidding is placing fake bids in an effort to drive up the price of a certain auction item.

"When Mastro Auctions case really started to gain traction and that drew eyes to "Oh my God, this is a billion-dollar industry," said Brusokas.

While tracking that digital deceit, Brusokas and his team also wound up unraveling one of baseball’s greatest mysteries about the condition of a Honus Wagner card.

At one time, it was the most expensive trading card in the world – selling for $2.8 million.

"Initially was anybody worried about it?" asked Corey.

"There was always rumors," said Brusokas. "There was always some thought about the alteration of that card but nothing you could prove."  

And then — it happened. Mastro confessed. 

"Just as luck would have it, we got it on and overheard in detail about how he altered that card," said Brusokas.

Even with those two big breaks under his belt, Brusokas wasn’t done forging his path yet. 

"Is there any common thread that you can draw with these people who go that direction, how it happened and why?" asked Corey. 

"It always goes down to greed, unfortunately," said Brusokas. "Bill Mastro had a great business. He got greedy. John Rogers, he had a great idea that could have been a great business. He just got greedy."

Rogers was a businessman from Arkansas who Brusokas says came out of nowhere and shot up to be a big wig in the sports memorabilia market.

"This is all John Rogers work, so John didn’t just stick to athletes. Here’s Tim McGraw, Miley Cyrus," said Brusokas. "At the end of the day, he ran a $45 million Ponzi scheme based on fictitious memorabilia."

In an investigation full of twists, turns and double agents, what may be Roger’s greatest fraud involved college football’s most iconic trophy. 

"He ended up going to a trophy shop and having this plate made for Billy Sims who was drafted by Detroit Lions," said Brusokas. "Put this nameplate on it, and now he took it from a $50,000 trophy to a $300-$350,000 trophy with just a $10 nameplate."

"In the end, Rogers got arrested and Brusokas received an autographed photo from Billy Sims.

"To Brian, the world’s best FBI agent. Great job on my Heisman," Brusokas read aloud.

While Brusokas' collection of collectibles is mostly fake, what happened to the mountain of other memorabilia he's confiscated over the years?

"We destroy so many. One of my last acts as an agent was to destroy hundreds of jerseys and autographs. Boxes full of autographs," said Brusokas. "It has to go somewhere, and it can't go back out on the secondary market."

With an exception made by a federal judge in the John Rogers case, instead of destroying the hundreds of Louisville slugger baseball bats and balls Rogers had forged famous players' names on to, the FBI Chicago field office donated them to two inner-city youth teams. 

"That was a good feeling when you can do something with an object," said Brusokas.

Brusokas rounded out his career working on cases like the theft of Tom Brady's Super Bowl LI jersey.

Last December, he decided it was time to head for retirement.

"I’m not the smartest man in the world. I just work with really smart people. It was something fun and just something that clicked with me," said Brusokas. "This is a great industry. It’s a great hobby. If you’re doing it for all the right reasons, you can have fun with it. Its history. Each one of these objects tells a story."

Since technology has made it easier to replicate sports memorabilia, Brusokas has this advice for collectors: Know the history of the item you want to buy. It will give you an idea of what it's really worth. Talk to other collectors. He says they are a great resource for information as are third-party authenticators. 

Lastly, collect what you truly enjoy.  Don't focus on just the money.