A pair of antiques dealers looking to gain a bit of exposure by going on a public television program got more than they bargained for.
The pair were indicted Thursday on federal mail and wire fraud charges, accused of staging phony appraisals on the program Antiques Roadshow to enhance their reputations as experts in Civil War-era weapons and military artifacts.
Russ Pritchard III, 37, and George Juno, 40, allegedly cashed in on the reputation they developed on the program to make hundreds of thousands of dollars by defrauding the descendants of Civil War veterans to acquire artifacts at a fraction of their value.
If convicted, Pritchard, 37, could face up to 60 years in prison and $2.75 million in fines. Juno could face as much as 45 years in prison and fines of $2.25 million if found guilty.
"Mr. Pritchard maintains his innocence of these charges and we will vigorously defend them," Pritchard's attorney, Kirk Karaszkiewicz, told The Associated Press.
Among those allegedly victimized by the two men and their company, American Ordnance Preservation Association, were the descendants of Gen. George Pickett, who led "Picket's Charge" at the Battle of Gettysburg, and a Union officer named Maj. Samuel Wilson.
Using a Museum as a Front
According to the indictment, Pritchard convinced Pickett's descendants to sell off family memorabilia for approximately $88,000, claiming to be representing the Harrisburg National Civil War Museum.
However, Pritchard did not have any relationship with the museum, and according to the indictment, he turned around and sold Pickett letters, photographs and artifacts to the museum for $880,000.
George E. Pickett V, the Civil War general's great-great grandson, won a 1999 civil suit he filed against Pritchard over the sale of those artifacts. He was awarded $800,000 in damages.
Pritchard and Juno are accused of giving false testimony in that suit.
The two allegedly used the lure of the Harrisburg museum to convince Wilson's descendants to sell them one of the major's swords that had been handed down from generation to generation, promising them it would be put on permanent display there.
Wilson's descendants contacted the company after seeing the two men on Antiques Roadshow to get an appraisal on the sword, which had been presented to the major by the members of his company, after he was severely wounded and had to be discharged from the army.
The family had no intention of selling the sword, according to the indictment, but were convinced to do so by the idea of the family heirloom being put on display in the museum.
Roadshow producers severed ties with the defendants a year ago after accusations surfaced that they staged a phony appraisal in 1997. At the time, Pritchard blamed the accusation on rival dealers.