Two Men Arrested In Nationwide $2 Million Pokémon, Sports Cards Scam, Federal Officials Say

Two men from Washington state have been arrested and charged with orchestrating a brazen nationwide scheme to defraud buyers and marketplaces by selling forged high-value sports and Pokémon trading cards. The alleged scam, which lasted over two years, resulted in more than $2 million in victim losses.

Anthony Curcio, 43, of Redmond, and Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk, 37, of Lake Stevens, were taken into custody May 23. The charges, announced by U.S. Attorney Damian Williams and FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith, include conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.

Alleged fraudulent Pokemon cards
Alleged fraudulent Pokemon cards. (credit: United States Attorney’s Office)

According to the indictment, Curcio and Bondarchuk allegedly manipulated common-level trading cards by assigning false validity grades from PSA. By misrepresenting the condition and authenticity of these cards, the defendants were able to artificially inflate their retail prices far above their true market value.

“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,” says PSA in a statement.


The scheme targeted cards featuring images of professional athletes, including Michael Jordan Tom Brady, John Elway, and Nolan Ryan, and even rare Pokémon characters like Charizard and Venusaur. Curcio and Bondarchuk allegedly sold these fake cards through various channels, including online marketplaces, in-person card shops, auctions, and card shows.

In the world of sports and Pokémon card collecting, the condition and authenticity of a card can significantly impact its resale value. Reputable authenticators like PSA verify a card’s authenticity, assess its condition, and assign it a numerical grade from one to 10, with 10 being the highest possible grade. The assigned grade is a key factor in determining the card’s comparative market value.

To illustrate the importance of grading, the indictment cites the example of a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card. When graded as an 8 by PSA, this card has an estimated market value between $6,000 and $7,000. However, the same card, if graded a perfect 10, can command a price of $185,000 to $203,000. By falsely representing the grades assigned by PSA, Curcio and Bondarchuk were able to deceive buyers and marketplaces, selling cards at drastically inflated prices.

The defendants allegedly went to great lengths to make their counterfeit cards appear legitimate. They created fake PSA labels, complete with fraudulent bar codes and certification numbers, and sealed the cards in distinctive, tamper-resistant plastic cases to mimic the authentic grading process.

When confronted by victims who discovered the fraud, Curcio and Bondarchuk reportedly feigned ignorance and often issued refunds. However, the indictment alleges that they continued to sell the same fraudulent cards to subsequent victims, even after being notified of the cards’ falsified grades and labels.

To further conceal their involvement, the defendants used fake names and identities. In one instance, Bondarchuk allegedly gave a victim Curcio’s phone number but claimed it belonged to a leader of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. In another case, he provided the same number but said it belonged to someone named “John Steel.”

In July 2023, law enforcement conducted an undercover purchase of a fraudulently misrepresented 1999 Pokémon Venusaur card for $10,500. Curcio allegedly mailed the card to the undercover purchaser in Manhattan after receiving the wired funds in a bank account he controlled.

“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,” says Smith.

Alleged fraudulent 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card
Alleged fraudulent 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card. (credit: United States Attorney’s Office)

The indictment also reveals that Curcio ordered various items from an online marketplace to create forged card cases and labels, including grading cases, thermal transfer barcode labels, a magnifier loupe optical glass, a handheld inkjet printer, a lock-cutting kit, an electric grinding pen, abrasive buffers and polishing wheels, brushes, and engraving drill bits.

“Protecting collectors from fraud like this is a top priority for all of us at PSA. It is an important step forward for the hobby as a whole when operations like this one are rooted out and dismantled by the justice system. PSA is focused on making sure its holders, labels, processes, and technology are continuously evolving to stay ahead of the bad actors in the hobby,” notes PSA>

“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,” says Smith.

Both Curcio and Bondarchuk face up to 20 years in prison.

HobbyListings editor Matt Higgins contributed to this report.

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