Why Jackie Robinson’s first MLB contract is in the possession of U.S. Marshals

Most important contract in sports history embroiled in complex saga involving one of ‘America’s Most Wanted’

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Jackie Robinson signed his first major-league with Branch Rickey's Dodgers in 1947. Here, the two are pictured signing a deal in 1950 after Robinson won the 1949 NL MVP award.

It is arguably the most important contract in sports history: Jackie Robinson’s signed 1947 deal with the Brooklyn Dodgers as he broke baseball’s color barrier.

You would think this historic document would be at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., or secure under glass at one of the nation’s leading museums.

Instead, the contract, along with Robinson’s 1945 Montreal Royals deal, is currently in the possession of the U.S. Marshals Service, and the man who last bought the two contracts is on the run as one of “America's Most Wanted.”

The man’s investors are fighting to gain control of the documents, while also suing the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Jackie Robinson Foundation to win the rights to own the documents, which are valued by one appraiser at $36 million.

The issue of ownership is expected to be determined by the courts this fall.

So, how did all this happen? Cllct recaps this very complicated saga:

In the 1950s, the Dodgers loaned the documents to the Brooklyn Hall of Records, and these historic artifacts eventually found their way to St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

At some point, one of the caretakers at St. Francis, Arthur Konop, took possession of the contracts, according to court documents. In 2012, three years after Konop died, his family sold the contracts to an auction house for $750,000.

In a 2013 auction, a man named Mykalai Kontilai bought the two documents for $2 million and used them as the sole collateral in raising $6 million from investors for a venture called Collectors Cafe.

Five years later, Kontilai, aka Michael Contile, tried to sell the contracts through Goldin Auctions, and things started to get very messy.

The Dodgers asserted the team owned the contracts and transferred the rights to the documents to the Jackie Robinson Museum in New York City.

In 2023, the Robinson museum sought summary judgment to have the courts grant rights to the paperwork. But a judge refused to do so because, he argued, the Dodgers seemingly abandoned the documents for nearly seven decades, seemingly without caring.

Kontilai, a former mixed-martial arts agent, had an idea to start a memorabilia network and used the documents to make the investment more of a slam dunk. He also pitched that Larry King and his wife, Shaun, would host shows.

But things soon unraveled. In 2020, when the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Kontilai with wire fraud, money laundering, failure to file taxes and tampering with documents, the feds believed he fled to Russia.

Kontilai, who at one point represented to the feds that there was $4.99 million in the company's coffers when there was really $935, was found guilty in abstentia in December 2023.

The saga over the rightful owner of the Robinson contracts is not close to over.

First, Kontilai's investors are heading to arbitration, hoping that Kontilai defaulting of his obligations to them gives them the rights to the documents.

A lawsuit by those investors against the Dodgers and the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which will ultimately determine the owner of the two contracts, is set to go to trial in October 2024.

Here’s to hoping that person or organization that ends up with the contracts will be able to give these invaluable artifacts the due they deserve.

Darren Rovell is the founder of cllct.com and one of the country's leading reporters on the collectible market. He previously worked for ESPN, CNBC and The Action Network.