Fraud in the Antiques Business

ByConstance Clarke

June 14, 2001 -- In a hidden camera investigation, PrimeTime uncovered a seamy side of the antiques world: dealers preying on naive sellers.

Probably no one did this better than George Juno and Russ Pritchard, the military artifacts dealers who became notorious for staging phony appraisals on Antiques Roadshow, the popular PBS program. But their off-camera dealings are also shocking.

Pickett Charges Into Court

In the early '90s, the city of Harrisburg, Pa. began building a Civil War museum. Harrisburg's mayor was spending millions for swords, uniforms and other artifacts, buying much of it from American Ordnance Preservation Association (AOPA), Juno and Pritchard's company.

Enter George E. Pickett V, a descendant of the man who led the ill-fated charge at Gettysburg. Young Pickett owned a trunkful of his famous ancestor's mementos, but told ABCNEWS he had little interest in them until Pritchard contacted him in late 1995.

Pritchard, armed with a letter saying he represented Harrisburg, convinced Pickett to sell the collection for $88,000. "He said the museum was paying top dollar," says Pickett, "and that he was under an obligation to the museum to appraise these items for fair market value."

Almost three years later and entirely by accident, Pickett learned the real value of the trunk's contents. Pickett found himself seated next to Jerry Coates, an expert in military uniforms, at a Gettysburg seminar. Coates estimated that the general's cap alone was worth $50,000 to $100,000.

Within days, Coates and Pickett learned that Harrisburg had actually paid AOPA $880,000 for the memorabilia — 10 times what Pickett had been paid for the mementos.

Pickett charged into court. After only three hours of deliberation, a jury awarded Pickett $800,000.

A Pistol, Military Uniform and a Cannon

The case made national headlines, but Juno and Pritchard remained Roadshow stars. According to Judy Matthews, the show's publicist, Roadshow felt the jury's verdict had no bearing on Juno's and Pritchard's performance on Roadshow.

"Knowing what we know now," says Matthews, "I believe we would have made a different decision …"

Though Roadshow kept the duo on until March 2000, Juno and Pritchard had caught the eye of the FBI. In March, the two were indicted for staging the phony appraisals as a way to attract and defraud customers. Last month, Juno pleaded guilty and he awaits sentencing.

Within days, more fraud charges were made against Pritchard. [See indictment documents in Web links at right.] For example, Pritchard allegedly paid a descendant of Civil War Major Gen. George Gordon Meade $184,000 for a pistol, saying it would be displayed in a special exhibit. Instead, Juno and Pritchard had sold it to a private collector for $385,000.

In another case, Pritchard allegedly told a cousin that a uniform the cousin owned was fake, and Pritchard had donated it to charity for him. Instead, the uniform was sold to a dealer for $45,000. Pritchard will be arraigned on all charges shortly.

All of this comes as little surprise to the Scranton chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans. The Sons had their own clash with Juno and Pritchard back in 1993. It concerned a cannon overlooking the graves of Union soldiers in the local cemetery. Pritchard paid the cemetery $10,000 for it, then sold it immediately for $27,200. Pritchard testified that he and Juno shared the profits. A judge later ruled it was worth $47,500 and belonged to the Sons.

The Sons never did get the money or their cannon back, but their historian Joe Long says of the fight, "If it saves a certain number of cannons or artifacts from cemeteries, it's well worth it."

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