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All-Star Cafe Chefs Charged in Theft of Actor's Rare Baseball Cards

The New York Times (By Neil MacFarquhar) (April 16, 1999)

Two chefs from the Official All-Star Cafe and two colleagues were charged in Federal court yesterday with pilfering rare baseball cards from the collection of the actor Charlie Sheen that were on display at the Times Square restaurant.

The thefts, which occurred during a two-month period last year, involved removing the valuable cards from their plexiglass display cases and substituting color photocopies for the originals, said James Margolin, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The first card stolen is among the most valued artifacts of baseball memorabilia: a card printed around 1910 that shows Honus Wagner, a legendary shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and one of the first players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A similar card sold at auction in 1996 for $640,500.

Also stolen, the authorities said, was a baseball card of Sherry Magee, an outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies starting around 1904, and an uncut sheet of 25 cards that included a scarce 1933 card of Napoleon Lajoie, a Hall of Fame second baseman for the Cleveland Indians.

A spokesman for Mr. Sheen, Jeff Ballard, said that the actor would remove his memorabilia collections from the All Star Cafe in New York and the one in Las Vegas.

Mr. Sheen issued a statement saying that he was pleased that the F.B.I. and the New York City police had succeeded in recovering most of the cards, but that he regretted they had been tampered with.

Mr. Sheen is an investor in the Planet Hollywood International restaurant chain, which owns the Official All-Star Cafe.

The four men accused of the thefts appeared before Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck in Federal court yesterday on charges of selling stolen property and conspiring to take stolen property across state lines. The crimes carry sentences of up to five years in jail and $250,000 in fines.

Thomas Garland, 34, the executive chef, and his nephew, Benjamin Ramos, 21, pleaded not guilty and were released on their own recognizance. Their lawyers would not comment.

Michael Hess, 33, an assistant chef, did not plead and was released on his own recognizance. Gregory Corden, 36, the maintenance manager, did not plead and was released on $75,000 bail. Their lawyers did not return calls seeking comment.

According to law enforcement officials, the scheme started in March 1998 when Mr. Corden took the Wagner card from a display case in the Sheen room off the main bar.

Mr. Corden told Mr. Gartland, who cooperated with investigators, as did Mr. Ramos, that he could switch a photocopy for any card on display and asked him to help get a copy of the Wagner card, which he had hidden behind a ceiling tile.

After making a copy of a similar card from a book with the help of Mr. Ramos, Mr. Gartland took the genuine card to his house in New Jersey, according to court papers, and got Mr. Ramos to take it to a memorabilia dealer. Mr. Ramos, saying he had found the card in his grandfather's closet, sold it for $18,000.

Experts said it was an extremely low price. There are fewer than 50 in existence, said Scott J. Kelnhoffer of Sports Collectors Digest.

Legend has it that Wagner ordered the cards out of circulation soon after they were distributed by a tobacco company because he did not want his name associated with the cigarette packages used to distribute the cards. Another version, though, states that he wanted to be paid for the use of his likeness.

The second theft occurred on April 21, 1998, when Mr. Hess accidentally broke a display case while removing the Magee card as well as the sheet of cards, the court papers say. Mr. Gartland and Mr. Ramos cut up the sheet, threw away two damaged cards and sold the rest to the same New Jersey dealer (Al Rosen) for $20,500, court papers say.

Law enforcement officials say all the cards were recovered except the two that were thrown away.

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