Pokémon Card Scammers Arrested By FBI

The FBI has arrested Anthony Curcio and Iosif Bondarchuk for operating a nationwide scam involving sports and Pokémon trading cards.

Primary Category: Criminal Justice

Authors:
•  SCARS Editorial Team – Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Federal Bureau of Investigation

About This Article

The FBI has arrested Anthony Curcio and Iosif Bondarchuk for operating a nationwide scam involving sports and Pokémon trading cards. Charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud, the duo allegedly manipulated the market by misrepresenting low-to-mid grade cards as high-grade, authenticated by a reputable grading company, causing victims to overpay and resulting in over $2 million in fraudulent sales.

The scheme, which spanned from 2022 to May 2024, involved selling cards with falsified grades through online marketplaces and in-person venues. Curcio and Bondarchuk used fake identities to conceal their involvement, even after victims confronted them.

The case highlights the FBI’s commitment to combating fraud and protecting consumers in the collectibles market.

Pokémon Card Scammers Arrested By FBI - 2024 - on SCARS ScamsNOW.com - The Magazine of Scams Fraud and Cybercrime

Pokémon Scammers Arrested by FBI: Operators Of U.S. Nationwide Sports And Pokémon Trading Card Scam Arrested

In a significant crackdown on scam activities involving valuable Sports And Pokémon trading cards, the FBI has arrested two individuals accused of operating a nationwide sports and Pokémon trading card scam.

Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James Smith, the FBI’s New York Field Office Assistant Director, announced the unsealing of an indictment against Anthony Curcio, also known as “Brendan Wooley,” and Iosif Bondarchuk, also known as “Joe Bondarchuk.” The duo is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud, stemming from their scheme to deceive buyers by misrepresenting the grading of trading cards, leading to inflated prices.

Curcio and Bondarchuk allegedly manipulated the market value of low-to-mid grade sports and Pokémon cards by falsely claiming they were high-grade, authenticated by a reputable company, thereby defrauding victims of over $2 million. Their arrest marks a pivotal moment in addressing the misuse of online marketplaces and social media for fraudulent trading card sales. The case, highlighting the importance of vigilance and integrity in the collectibles market, underscores the FBI’s commitment to combating fraud and protecting consumers.

According to the U.S. FBI:

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James Smith, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of an Indictment charging ANTHONY CURCIO, a/k/a “Brendan Wooley,” and IOSIF BONDARCHUK, a/k/a “Joe Bondarchuk,” with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.

The charges arise from the defendants’ scam/fraudulent scheme to defraud buyers and marketplaces to purchase sports and Pokémon trading cards at false and inflated prices by misrepresenting that low-to-mid grade cards had received high-grade ratings from a reputable card authentication company (“Company-1”), thereby causing victims to pay more money for the cards than they otherwise would have. CURCIO and BONDARCHUK were arrested this morning and are expected to be presented today before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Western District of Washington. This case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Anthony Curcio and Iosif Bondarchuk carried out a brazen, nationwide fraud scheme involving valuable sports and Pokémon trading cards to deceive buyers and marketplaces, ultimately amassing over $2 million in fraudulent and attempted sales. Curcio and Bondarchuk allegedly sold and tried to sell at inflated prices cards of various professional athletes, including, among others, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Nolan Ryan, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, and Magic Johnson, as well as various valuable Pokémon cards. Thanks to our law enforcement partners, the dedicated prosecutors of this Office, and the many victims who came forward, this alleged fraud has had its last dance. Our message today is clear: no matter what product you’re selling, if you try to deceive the public to make money, you will be brought to justice.”

FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said: “For over two years, Anthony Curcio and Joe Bondarchuk allegedly manipulated common-level trading cards to fraudulently inflate the retail price from its true market value by assigning false validity grades, resulting in more than $2 million in victim losses. This alleged scheme not only damages the reputation of a respectable authentication company, but the defendants’ alleged actions also betray the trust and wallets of avid collectors. The FBI will continue to investigate all fraudulent behavior, especially those who seek to exploit the good faith of companies and consumers.”

According to the allegations in the Indictment (see PDF below for full indictment):

From at least 2022 to May 2024, CURCIO and BONDARCHUK sold and attempted to sell fraudulent sports and Pokémon trading cards to victims across the country. In total, CURCIO and BONDARCHUK attempted to deprive victims of over $2 million through their sales and attempted sales by misrepresenting the grade of numerous trading cards.

Sports and Pokémon trading cards containing the images of professional athletes and Pokémon can have considerable resale value depending on, among other things, their condition and authenticity. Company-1 is a prominent card authenticator and grader. For a fee, it verifies a card’s authenticity, assesses its condition, and assigns it a numerical grade from one to 10, with one being the lowest grade and 10 being the highest grade. The grade assigned is reflective of the card’s comparative market value. After grading a card, Company-1 seals the card in a distinctive, tamper-resistant plastic case that encloses the card to preserve its condition and indicates its grade on an affixed label.

The card grade assigned by Company-1 significantly impacts the market value of the card. As an example, among the cards that CURCIO and BONDARCHUK sold in connection with the scheme was a misrepresented 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan #57 rookie card (the “1986 MJ Card”). The 1986 MJ Card graded as an 8 has an estimated market value of between $6,000 and $7,000. But this same card, when graded as a 10 by Company-1, has had an estimated market value of between approximately $185,000 and $203,000. In short, representations about Company-1’s grade of the card go directly to the value of the card itself and the price at which the card can be bought and sold. In May 2022, CURCIO advertised one version of the 1986 MJ Card on an online marketplace based in Manhattan (the “Manhattan Marketplace”) for sale for the amount of $171,700, as pictured below:

As is depicted above, CURCIO advertised the 1986 MJ Card as having a purported grade of 10 assigned by Company-1.  In truth and in fact, CURCIO knew that Company-1 had not assigned this grade to the card.  To further make it appear that the 1986 MJ Card had received a rating of 10 from Company-1, CURCIO caused a purported Company-1 label to be included in the plastic case, along with a fraudulent bar code and certification number.

Through the Manhattan Marketplace, CURCIO and BONDARCHUK sold various cards at inflated prices by falsely claiming the cards had been assigned higher ratings by Company-1 than was true.

CURCIO and BONDARCHUK also sold and attempted to sell fraudulent cards at in-person card shops, auctions, and card shows.  CURCIO further sold and attempted to sell fraudulent cards through other online platforms using third-party sellers.

When victims demanded refunds and confronted CURCIO and BONDARCHUK, including by showing them confirmations from Company-1 that they had misrepresented the grade of the cards they were selling, CURCIO and BONDARCHUK feigned ignorance and often refunded the victims.  Yet, after being put on notice that the cards’ grades and labels were fraudulent, CURCIO and BONDARCHUK repeatedly attempted to, and did, sell these very same cards to subsequent victims, again with fraudulent labels showing an inflated grade from Company-1.

Among the fraudulent cards that CURCIO, BONDARCHUK, and others sold and attempted to sell are a 1999 Pokémon Venusaur card and a 1999 Pokémon Charizard card, pictured below.

In July 2023, as part of a law enforcement undercover purchase of the above fraudulently misrepresented 1999 Pokémon Venusaur card for $10,500—a card which BONDARCHUK had previously attempted to sell on an online marketplace—CURCIO mailed the card to the undercover law enforcement purchaser in Manhattan after the undercover purchaser wired the money to a CURCIO-controlled bank account.

CURCIO and BONDARCHUK repeatedly used fake names and identities in order to conceal their involvement in the fraudulent scheme.  For example: after a victim complained to BONDARCHUK about his sales of fraudulent cards, including a Tom Brady rookie card, a John Elway rookie card, and various Michael Jordan cards, BONDARCHUK gave the victim CURCIO’s phone number but falsely told the victim that the phone number belonged to another individual who, in reality, was a leader of the Hells Angels motorcycle ring.  After another victim complained to BONDARCHUK about his sales of fraudulent cards, including a 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie card, BONDARCHUK gave the victim CURCIO’s phone number but this time falsely told the victim that the phone number belonged to someone named, “John Steel.”

Last month, in April 2024, at a card show in New Jersey, CURCIO gave a business card to a potential victim buyer, falsely claiming to be “Brendan Wooley” and listing, among other identifiers, a phone number and LinkedIn page purportedly belonging to “Brendan Wooley.”  In truth and in fact, CURCIO—and not “Brendan Wooley”—created and operated the LinkedIn page and controlled the phone number.

In furtherance of the fraud, CURCIO ordered from an online marketplace various items needed to create forged card cases and labels.  The items included various card grading cases, thermal transfer barcode labels, a magnifier loupe optical glass, a handheld inkjet printer, a lock-cutting kit, an electric grinding pen, an abrasive buffer and polishing wheel, an abrasive and bristle brushes, and drill bits designed for engraving.

*                *                *

CURCIO, 43, of Redmond, Washington, and BONDARCHUK, 37, of Lake Stevens, Washington, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the investigative work of the FBI.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Illicit Finance and Money Laundering Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys David R. Felton and Kingdar Prussien are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Pokémon Card Scammers Arrested By FBI – Indictment

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