Federal charges unsealed in Chicago on Thursday allege three dealers participated in a massive art and sports memorabilia fraud scheme involving forged signatures of baseball greats Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Cy Young, as well as phony paintings purportedly by artists such as George Ault, Ralston Crawford and others.

Charged in the 34-page indictment were brothers Donald Henkel and Mark Henkel, of Michigan, as well as Raymond Paparella, of Boca Raton, Fla..

The wire fraud charges alleged Donald Henkel purchased items such as paintings, baseballs, baseball bats, celebrity photographs and books, record albums, programs and even “vintage pens” for use in the scheme.

The Henkel brothers then used a series of co-conspirators, including Paparella, as “straw sellers” to conceal the brothers’ involvement and pass the fake items off as legitimate to galleries and collectors across the country, the indictment alleged.

Many of the items eventually netted hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit sales, which was split among the co-conspirators, the indictment alleged.

Among the victims of the 15-year fraud scheme was a Chicago-area auction house, according to the indictment. Other victims included art galleries and auction houses in New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, and London.

One of the first schemes alleged in the indictment was the 2005 sale of baseballs purportedly signed by early greats Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson to a sports memorabilia dealer in Exton, Pennsylvania.

The Henkel brothers allegedly recruited an associate, identified only as Co-Schemer A, to provide false information about the authenticity of the baseballs to the victim, who sold them at auction for $121,000, the indictment alleged.

In March 2016, Donald Henkel allegedly contacted the Chicago-area auction house about the sale of a fraudulent painting by Ralston Crawford, the famous American abstract painter, lithographer, and photographer who died in 1978.

Henkel had “made the painting falsely appear like one of Crawford’s works,” titled “Smith Silo Exton,” including adding a phony signature on the work, according to the charges. The fake painting sold for about $395,000, and about $300,000 of the proceeds went back to Henkel, the indictment alleged.

Attorneys for the three defendants were not listed in court records Thursday afternoon.

The case is the latest in a long line of fraud investigations involving doctored art and sports memorabilia in Chicago’s federal court.

Nearly a decade ago, a Florida art gallery owner was sentenced to a year in prison for participating in an international scheme that reaped millions by passing off phony prints as originals signed by masters from Pablo Picasso to Marc Chagall.

In 2017, Arkansas collector John Rogers received a 12-year sentence for altering sports memorabilia items to make them appear authentic and using proceeds from the fraud to repay customers who had figured out the items were fakes.

In one instance, Rogers had a trophy company fix a nameplate to a Heisman replica to make it look like it was the authentic 1978 trophy awarded to University of Oklahoma running back Billy Sims, according to court records.

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