CHICAGO — Two brothers and a friend were indicted on federal charges for allegedly forging autographs and paintings, including baseballs and bats believed to be signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The indictment, which was unsealed in Chicago on Thursday, accuses Donald Henkel, 61, of Cedar, Michigan, of altering and applying false autographs or signatures to paintings and memorabilia, including sports, Hollywood, and music collectibles to make the items appear genuine or more valuable to potential buyers.
The indictment alleges that Donald Henkel falsely added signatures of artists such as Ralston Crawford and George Ault to paintings that he knew were not created by those artists. Federal agents believe he then schemed with his brother Mark Henkel, 66, of Ann Arbor, who has also been charged in the conspiracy.
Mark allegedly recruited “bogus straw sellers” that provided a false backstory for the fake items. Some of the fake items were baseballs or bats purportedly signed by Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Cy Young.
One of the alleged straw sellers, Raymond Paparella, 59, of Boca Raton, Florida, is accused of scheming to conceal the Henkels’ involvement.
An auction house in the Chicago area was listed as one of the victims, according to the indictment.
The alleged fraud scheme began in 2005 and continued until 2020. Many of the forged items were sold for more than $100,000 based on the false histories provided by the Henkels or the straw sellers, according to the indictment.
The three men pleaded not guilty Thursday during their arraignments on mail and wire fraud charges.