FBI charges two men in card grading fraud

Pair allegedly falsified grades to fetch higher prices for cards

Cover Image for FBI charges two men in card grading fraud
A Steph Curry rookie card and high-end Pokemon cards were among those with fraudulent grades.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on Thursday unsealed an indictment of two men who, they charge, engaged in a fraudulent scheme to "defraud buyers and marketplaces to purchase sports and Pokemon trading cards at false and inflated prices" by making fake PSA grading labels that awarded cards higher grades.

For at least two years, Anthony Curcio and Iosif Bondarchuk took cards in PSA cases and put labels on them with better grades, the indictment alleges. The flip, as it is called, also had a fake barcode and fake certification numbers.

Sources told cllct that in some cases the cards themselves were never graded by PSA.

"Protecting collectors from fraud like this is a top priority for all of us at PSA," PSA said in a statement Thursday night.

“Over the past two years, the PSA Brand Protection team worked diligently with the FBI as it built its case to charge Anthony Curcio with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, stemming from sales of fraudulent sports and Pokémon trading cards. Many of these cards were sold in fake PSA holders."

PSA added that collectors who either want to confirm the authenticity of their holder and or label can complete a brand protection request on its website.

The two men are each being charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. If found guilty, the men will also have to forfeit any gains, monetary or otherwise, they made from their illicit operation.

In May 2022, Curcio and Bondarchuk sold a Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer Rookie, in a case that showed it was a PSA 10, for $170,000. The sale matches up with a transaction made on collectible marketplace MySlabs. The scheme was caught by MySlabs, and the transaction cancelled.

In some cases when they were caught, the feds said the two men would refund the purchase, but the indictment charges the pair would then get the card back and try to sell it again.

The two conducted at least eight sales on the website worth approximately $225,000, the indictment alleges. The feds also charge the two men tried to sell the cards in person — at stores and at card shows.

Eventually, they sold to the wrong person. In July 2023, the two sold a 1st Edition Pokemon Venusaur to an undercover officer, who wired money to Curcio's bank account. .

Other fraudulent cards that the two tried to sell included the 1980 Topps Scoring Leader card with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Dr. J, Stephen Curry's 2009 Topps rookie and a 1999 1st Edition Pokemon Charizard Holo.

The feds say the men routinely used fake names. Curcio operated under "John Steel" and "Brendan Wooley." Law enforcement also found Curcio ordered all the parts necessary to perpetrate the fraud, including thermal transfer barcode labels, magnifying glasses, a buffer and a polishing wheel, among other instruments

"Out message today is clear," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. "No matter what product you are selling, if you try to deceive the public to make money, you will be brought to justice."

Curcio previously spent five years in prison for his part in one of the most elaborate bank heists in history.

In September 2008, Curcio hired 15 to 20 workers for a fake clean-up project at a bank parking lot in Monroe, Washington. When a Brinks truck showed up to the bank, Curcio, disguised as a worker, pepper-sprayed the guard and ran off into the woods with two bags of cash worth $400,000.

Upon his release, he became a children's book author, writing a book about Steph Curry entitled "The Boy Who Never Gave Up" and a book about LeBron James called "The Boy Who Became King." He also has spent time giving motivational speeches, including a Tedx Talk at the University of Idaho in 2016 about making good choices.

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.