A plea and arraignment hearing is scheduled for Monday in Pulaski County Circuit Court for former Arkansas sports memorabilia dealer John Rogers. He's facing state charges while awaiting sentencing next month on a federal wire fraud charge.
The new charges stem from the alleged theft by Rogers of three hard drives containing images valued at $364,167. In March he pleaded guilty in federal court after reaching a plea agreement that acknowledged he took part in an effort "to fraudulently obtain at least approximately $10 million" from investors, financial institutions and customers. Prosecutors say Rogers used a variety of schemes that included false pretenses, misrepresentations and lies.
At one time Rogers was a high-flying businessman trading in rare sports memorabilia. He also secured deals to acquire the photo archives of newspapers around the country. At the time of a February 2013 interview with KUAR News, one of his companies had just begun scanning the collection of the Miami Herald, as well as the other 28 papers owned by McClatchy Company. Rogers spoke about how he grew his business in that direction.
"This business really started off extremely small," Rogers said. "I had a large collection, several hundred thousand photos that I had collected just as an obsessive collector since a child and when I realized you could monetize these images if you had them digitized, I began that process. In the beginning it was just me on a flat bed scanner doing a few hundred a week. I saw the income that could be derived out of that, so I hired some employees."
By digitizing the newspaper archives, which would be available for those publications to use, Rogers suggested it was a mutually beneficial deal for his company and the newspapers.
"Our country went through this horrible recession and around 2008, some of these newspapers really started to get into crisis situations, so we were able to go in and provide cash and millions in services to create a revenue stream that has worked very well for our partners."
Arkansas Business has been carefully following Rogers’ rise and fall over the years and reporter Lance Turner spoke with KUAR News:
MICHAEL HIBBLEN: Explain how he built his companies into such big dollar entities.
LANCE TURNER: Well, some of it owes to Rogers' stature in the sports memorabilia community. He was a collector and collected a lot of memorabilia; a lot of key pieces of sports history. A Honus Wagner baseball card was probably the most famous purchase that he had made and then sort of started parlaying that into this other business, this archive business, and that was built with a lot of the standard stuff that business people use to build a business. They go to banks and get loans and they talk to investors and get investment dollars in that way, and so that was kind of what everyone saw from the outside, but as we've been digging back into John Rogers' past, what has become clear is that a lot of that was built on lies and fabrications and misrepresentations. John Rogers altered some sports memorabilia in ways that made them fraudulent. He had a Heisman Trophy at one point that was sort of an honorary trophy, not a true Heisman Trophy, but he modified that trophy to pass it off as a legitimate trophy and use that as collateral on loans and sort of grow this thing into what it became.
HIBBLEN: And as Arkansas Business reported at the time, the FBI raided Rogers' home and business in January 2014. That eventually led to federal charges being filed against him and a guilty plea this past March. What did he acknowledge in that plea?
TURNER: Well mainly he acknowledged that he was a fraud in his business dealings with people and that he made false statements about the assets that he held, the value of those assets. Again, it was all sort of built on lies and falsehoods and what Rogers told the district judge in Chicago where he reached this plea agreement was that it was for personal gain. He said this is about greed and I was greedy and large swaths of this business and this business plan were simply a sham.
HIBBLEN: Sentencing had been scheduled for September, but was reset to November 20th. Could he be looking at hard prison time?
TURNER: Well, I think on paper the wire fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The judge though has all kinds of leeway in what he'll do and (Rogers is) also cooperating with investigators on some other cases. There were a lot of big sports memorabilia fraud charges out of Chicago in the last few years and he's connected to some of that and he knows some people in those circles. If he's cooperating with investigators, experts tell us , and just the patterns of how these things work out suggest that he could really be facing about eight years in federal prison.
HIBBLEN: And while that's happening he’s now facing state charges of commercial burglary and theft of property. What was this about?
TURNER: Well, so in the middle of all this legal wrangling that's been going on, his business was forced into receivership, and so he was barred from being on the premises at his archive offices in North Little Rock. Nevertheless in August 2015 surveillance video showed John Rogers come into the building and walking out, allegedly with three hard drives that contained a lot of those iconic images and property that he had acquired from newspapers. And that property at the time was argued to be in the hands of the receiver and was not John Rogers' to take. So he has a felony charge of commercial burglary and theft of property that he faces there. He claims that the hard drives were assets that he bought personally. The attorneys for the receiver disagree, so that's kind of what that case has been about.
UPDATE: Arkansas Business reports Rogers showed up for the plea and arraignment hearing Monday without an attorney amid confusion about who would represent him. Rogers indicated that he learned about the hearing last week and thought Little Rock attorney Blake Hendrix would be representing him. But Rogers said he learned Hendrix is only representing him on the federal case and Pulaski County Circuit Judge Barry Sims moved the plea and arraignment to Jan. 8. Sims also said he would only make rulings on uncontested actions in the case because he knows Rogers. Sentencing on the federal charge remains scheduled for Nov. 20.