Fraudulent 1999 Pokémon cards Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk and Anthony Curcio sold to an undercover law enforcement purchaser in July 2023. (Photo provided by the DOJ USAO Southern District of New York)

Fraudulent 1999 Pokémon cards Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk and Anthony Curcio sold to an undercover law enforcement purchaser in July 2023. (Photo provided by the DOJ USAO Southern District of New York)

Counterfeit Pokémon cards, a $2M scheme, and a getaway by inner tube

It was the latest stranger-than-fiction caper tied to ex-Monroe star athlete Anthony Curcio, accused of forging mint grades for rare cards.

LAKE STEVENS — Graded at an 8, or near-mint, the Fleer 1986 Michael Jordan rookie card had an estimated value of perhaps $7,000.

As a 10, or a virtually perfect gem, Anthony Curcio and Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk sold it for $171,700 — a few thousand dollars under the estimated market rate — to an online market based in Manhattan in May 2022, according to new federal charges against the two men with Snohomish County roots.

Prosecutors alleged it was part of $2 million in fraud, using counterfeit Pokémon and rarified sports cards, and the latest stranger-than-fiction scheme from Curcio. The former star athlete at Monroe High School was convicted of an elaborate armored truck heist in 2009, where he initially made his getaway by jumping into a river in a yellow inner tube, then wrote children’s books in prison and marketed himself as a reformed motivational speaker.

A 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan #57 rookie card Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk and Anthony Curcio attempted to sell with fraudulent labels showing an inflated grade from Company-1. (Photo provided by the DOJ USAO Southern District of New York)

A 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan #57 rookie card Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk and Anthony Curcio attempted to sell with fraudulent labels showing an inflated grade from Company-1. (Photo provided by the DOJ USAO Southern District of New York)

As of this year, Bondarchuk coached local youth sports, including Archbishop Murphy High School’s boys basketball team, though the school said Tuesday he’s no longer employed there.

On May 20, a grand jury indicted Curcio, now of Redmond, and Bondarchuk, of Lake Stevens, with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in U.S. District Court in New York.

Curcio, 43, and Bondarchuk, 37, were accused of selling trading cards at inflated prices by misrepresenting low- to mid-grade cards as having received higher grade ratings from a reputable card authentication company, according to court documents.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

Since 2022, Curcio and Bondarchuk have sold sports and Pokémon trading cards to collectors across the country. Curcio and Bondarchuk allegedly forged the insignia of a prominent card grader that verifies a card’s authenticity, assesses its condition and assigns a numerical grade from 1 to 10. The higher the grade, the higher the card’s market value. Some grade 10 cards can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After grading a card, the company seals the card in a distinctive, tamper-resistant plastic case. The grade of the card is labeled on the case. Curcio and Bondarchuk would sell lower-grade cards with fraudulent labels displaying inflated grades, according to the charges.

Curcio ordered materials online to create forged card cases and labels, including card-grading cases, thermal transfer bar-code labels, a magnifier loupe optical glass, a handheld ink-jet printer, a lock-cutting kit, an electric grinding pen, an abrasive buffer and polishing wheel, abrasive and bristle brushes as well as drill bits designed for engraving, according to court documents.

Curcio and Bondarchuk frequently sold various cards at inflated prices through the Manhattan Marketplace, an online site. In total, Curcio and Bondarchuk allegedly defrauded eight buyers on the marketplace of around $225,000. The two also sold fraudulent cards at in-person shops, auctions and card shows, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In addition to the Michael Jordan rookie card, Curcio and Bondarchuk sold or tried to sell a Stephen Curry rookie card and a “scoring leaders” card featuring Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Magic Johnson, according to court documents. All were encased in false labeling.

Some buyers demanded refunds from Curcio and Bondarchuk after learning of the misrepresentations. Prosecutors said they would often feign ignorance and refund the buyers, before selling the cards to someone else.

In March 2023, a buyer complained to Bondarchuk about his sales of fraudulent Tom Brady, John Elway and Michael Jordan cards. Bondarchuk gave the buyer Curcio’s phone number, but told him the number belonged to a leader of the Hells Angels motorcycle ring, court documents said.

In May 2023, another buyer complained to Bondarchuk about a 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie card, according to the charges. Bondarchuk again provided Curcio’s phone number, but told him Curcio’s name was “John Steel.”

As part of an undercover operation last July, law enforcement purchased a fraudulent 1999 Pokemon Venusaur card from Curcio for $10,500, court documents said.

Prosecutors allege Curcio and Bondarchuk would use aliases when selling the fraudulent cards. Last month, Curcio gave his business card to a buyer at a card show in New Jersey, using the name “Brendan Wooley.”

On Thursday, police arrested Curcio and Bondarchuk. The two appeared in U.S. District Court in Seattle before the case was transferred to New York.

In September 2008, just days after the announcement of a massive bank bailout package, Curcio led one of the most elaborate armored car heists in U.S. history. Curcio, then 28, became “enamored” with the idea of robbing an armored car while he was working for his parents’ landscaping company outside the federal courthouse in Seattle, court papers said.

A week before the heist, Curcio posted an ad on Craigslist offering work for landscapers who showed up outside the Bank of America in Monroe the day of the robbery. The ad told them to wear reflective vests and blue T-shirts, matching Curcio’s outfit.

The day of the heist, Curcio sprayed a guard with pepper spray, grabbed two bags of money and made his escape. He jumped into Woods Creek, hopped onto a yellow inner tube and used a cable to pull himself downstream to a waiting vehicle. With help from a homeless man who witnessed Curcio’s strange activity before the heist, investigators tracked Curcio down. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

As a teenager, Curcio set football and basketball records at Monroe High School. At the time of the heist, he helped coach the Monroe Middle School football team, according to court records.

While in prison, he wrote and illustrated over 20 children’s books. Curcio also wrote “Heist and High,” describing his experience while incarcerated. Since his release, he has given presentations about drug abuse and the importance of making positive choices.

Bondarchuk was the assistant coach for Archbishop Murphy’s varsity boys basketball team this season. A school spokesperson said Bondarchuk no longer worked there. The school declined to comment on how long Bondarchuk coached the team.

He also coached the Lake Stevens WBA Wildcat Hoops-Wild, an eighth grade AAU team. The team came in second place in the 2024 Best In The West tournament.

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; jonathan.tall@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @snocojon.

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