Stamp Auction Bid Rigging

Rough Draft

Honesty is the best policy, we learn in our youth. Certainly no one can question the adage. In the stamp business, particularly, where there are so many opportunities to be other than honest, the wisdom of following the rule is acknowledged by most in the profession.  –  Herman Herst, Nassau Street

In the springtime of 2002 I get a call from the buyer where he casually conveys the details of investigation by the Justice Department’s, Antitrust Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into stamp auction bid rigging. 

At this point in my dealings with Mark I am not fully woven into the fabric of his past as a stamp dealer as I would be in the years to come. So, as I am unconcernedly listening and asking a few questions while, all along thinking this is interesting but it certainly has nothing to do with Mark Morrow.  

Well was I ever wrong on that assumption.

As it eventually came to light, Mark was a key player in what was known as the “Ring”, a group of well recognized, big gun stamp dealers, that for at least 17 years, at that point, essentially controlled the action at major stamp auctions.

Throughout the Winter and spring of that year, one by one, the United States Justice department began “Ringing Up” various actors of the “Ring”. Let me ask you, who really wants to be the first guy to go down for the group?

It is a very bad day when you wake up to find the Justice Department has chosen you as first. The first guy becomes the face of the scheme and he just dangles out there in the wind while the media and court of public opinion pick away at his reputation.

Number One – January 28, 2002

John Apfelbaum and his company, Earl P.L. Apfelbaum, Inc.

According to Mark, From the start of the investigation, John told his attorney to “do whatever is necessary to keep me out of jail”. There were always undertones in conversations about certain members of the ring rolling over to investigators in order to obtain leniency when it came time to settle up for their sins. And when you are the first to be fingered by the Justice Department, well, the natural inclination is to assume John, was probably the snitch.

However, the collective finger was never pointed at John as the turncoat but rather at another one of the actors who managed to not be publicly named in any press release by the Justice Department. To this day it is not possible to locate a single document on the internet linking his participation and prosecution as a member of the ring, I’ll refer to him as the chameleon.

When the shit initially hit the fan It was generally assumed the chameleon cut the line at the prosecutors door to make a deal to save his effervescing hide.

Later in the book I will go into more detail around the intrigue and shenanigans that occurred in the years following the revelation that major stamp dealers had essentially been stealing from the stamp collecting community for at least 17 years.

I guarantee that you will be entertained at what took place as members of the ring and other dealers jockeyed to use the “convicted felon” tag attached to the ring dealers to their advantage. There was some serious backstabbing going on and the guilty Chameleon was one of the worst of the lot. After all these years I am still in awe of his audacity.

Number 2 – April 16, 2002

Davitt Felder and his firm, Davitt Felder, Inc

One cold winter evening in 2011 I arrived to New Jersey with the stamp mobile to unload a 125 or so of boxes of material for Gary Posner Stamps.

When I speak of boxes this would be the standard moving box, 18”x18”x16”  and when filled with philatelic material would weight typically 40 pounds. 

Anyway, did I mention it was cold, there was snow on the ground and it was late, maybe 11 PM.  This particular office location was a large house which served both as living quarters for employees as well as a work site. 

My late arrival was anticipated and I knew someone would be there to help unload the truck. I just never who that might be. Well that night, much to my surprise, appears Davitt. This is now a number of years after his participation in the ring and here he is to help me unload the truck.

I knew Davitt back when he had his stamp store and operation in San Francisco. There were a number of times when I delivered substantial numbers of boxes of material to him. 

I always found him to be a decent guy, friendly and down to earth. But what fascinated me most was his background. Davitt attended Harvard and before I knew him was a practicing pediatrician MD.

And now here is Davitt helping me unload boxes into a garage. WOW.

I was pleased to see him and we did some catching up while getting those boxes off the truck. Oddly while we are working, seemingly out of no where this lady appears where we are working.

It was never clear what she wanted exactly but it was apparent something wasn’t right with her. I don’t clearly recall the details but I do recall how Davitt responded. It is like someone flipped on a switch and he becomes a Harvard educated physician again. He responded to the gal with kindness and a wonderful bedside manner. Honestly, I was in awe with the way he dealt with the lady. At the same time I could not help but think about the road he had traveled that brought us together that night.

While researching material for this book I came across this conversation thread in the Stamp Collecting Forum.  This exchange speaks to the damage done to reputations as a result of being a member of the ring.  

Post by Bobby Prager 3/8/11

I would like to enlighten everyone regarding the relationship between Mr Felder and Gary Posner Inc. Gary Posner Inc has neither merged with or acquired Ruby Stamps. Mr Felder is now employed by our company because of his incredible knowledge of foreign stamps. People make mistakes and we believe that people do deserve a second chance. Davitt knows how important it is for us as a company to keep our reputation at the highest possible level. Nothing going forward will ever compromise that standing we have in the philatelic community. Our reputation is everything to us and Mr Felder is well aware of it. We look forward to now branching off into the world of foreign stamps. We feel that Mr Felder’s addition to our company will eventually lead to Gary Posner Inc becoming one of the companies that collectors of foreign stamps can now turn to to fill their “International” philatelic needs. Sincerely, Robert W Prager

Reply to post

Bill….thanks for posting this up.  I just hope that Felder does not drag Posner down.   

Reply to post

Gary has such an excellent reputation as an honest forthright dealer and I would hate to see that reputation ruined because of a poor personnel decision.   Reply to post   You are welcome. I have a feeling it will work because I think Gary & Bobby run a pretty tight ship and will keep him in line. Since Gary is obviously one of the most successful retail dealers in philately, I think he makes sound decisions, so I would be surprised if this one wasn’t also successful.   Reply to post

same as his bidstart feedback.
And I, also, have the highest regard for G.P., have purchased from them in the past and will do so in the future.

Personally, I admire Gary and Bobby for giving Davitt a place to land. I have no idea where he might be today, but my hope is that he is doing well. In my mind he deserved the second chance.

A few words about Gary Posner.  Gary is definitely one of the top stamp dealers in the business.  I would rank him second only to the Mark Morrow and Don Sundman syndicate.  Mark and Gary go way back in the business.

When on the road traveling I would hear Mark and Gary on the phone though out the day discussing deals and the scuttlebutt around the business.

Like two fighters in the ring they would be sparing with leading questions attempting to discern where the other was headed for the next big deal.  Gary, was especially good at dangling the sparest of details about a large lot he was schedule to see just to get Mark frothy. Mark would counter with a few return jabs asking about the composition of the material.  The concern was that they both might be scheduled to see the same lot.. 

These two were competitive and always looking for a leg up. At the same time I believe to some degree they were friends and respected one another’s abilities. There were only a handful of guys who could match up with Mark when it came to finalizing a deal and Gary was one of those guys. Lots and lots of business was transacted between these two.  

Here is a typical scenario that occurred rather often. After a full day of traveling, looking at lots, purchasing lots and loading those lots into the truck we would arrive to the hotel around 10 PM. If we were relatively close, say within 100 miles, to Gary’s office Mark would have his long-time black car driver, Ahmed Hegazi, incidentally, also implicated in the ring, waiting at the hotel.

Depending on how things went I might be called down at any hour of the night to help move the purchased material from Ahmed’s SUV to the stamp mobile. Or we might be finishing the night 200 miles out from Gary’s office and Mark would have Ahmed meet us in route to take him into the city to look at Gary’s fresh material. I would catch up with him the next day perhaps in Philadelphia or New Jersey.
I came to realize that Mark or Gary essentially ran the stamp dealing equivalent to a 24 hour diner. They would truly go any place at any time to do a stamp deal. The word obsession comes to mind but that doesn’t do it justice. How about the word mania as in maniacs. Honestly, I was in awe of their passion and zeal. These two guys gave it their all day in and day out.

I once asked Mark why Gary never got involved in the ring. Gary, certainly had every opportunity join as he was part of the “big show”. Mark, could never give me a reason why he chose to not participate and I never did ask that question to Gary directly.

I spent lots of time around Gary and his assortment of employee characters. One brief yet memorable exchange with one of his employees started with this greeting, “Hi, I’m Chuck and I owe you a buck”.

Of course, I have to mention Gary’s right hand man, Robert Prager also know as Sweet Bobby. Has there ever been a more affable and smooth talking right hand man in the stamp business, I think not. 

When I think of glossy and highly refined stamp guys two names immediately come to mind: Don Sundman the founder of Mystic Stamp Co and Sweet Bobby. Bobby would be the working man’s version of Mr. Sundman.

I did hear one story from Mark about Bobby that added to my admiration of the man. Apparently, Gary wasn’t paying Sweet Bobby enough money and perhaps there was a little difference of opinion around the subject. 

Anyway, the way it was told to me is that out of the blue Bobby told Gary he was done with the stamp business and was leaving to sell men’s neck ties. Well that never occurred and the two of them are still together to this day.

Another story told to me by Mark was about one of Gary’s technical employees who removed the computers from the office holding them hostage until he was compensated. I never got the back story on that one but apparently things returned to normal so who knows.

And the last story about Gary. For many years there was a third personality in the mix with Gary and Mark and that was Dana Oakley from Southern California, also a member of the ring. These guys were like the three musketeers, they came up as the young guns in the stamp business and continued on as they got older. Eventually for lots of reasons Dana fell out of favor with both Mark and Gary. I guess the last straw was when Gary allowed Dana to move in the office boarding house. Dana promptly set-up shop in the basement with a full on apartment like layout but the real rub was the permease python snake dana kept in a cage in the basement. Gary would call Mark complaining about the snake. Dana would disappear for weeks and Gary was stuck worrying about the snake. I would constantly hear Mark and Gary talking about the snake and what should be done. I laugh at the thought of Dana living in that basement, it would have been like the inviting the Cat in the Hat to take up residence.

I looked forward to dropping in on Gary’s operation, there was good food and interesting characters to be found at his 24 hour café.

Gary is as much as a capitalist as the next guy but for unknown reasons he did not join the ring but rather took the road less traveled and along the way preserved both his character and reputation.

Number 3

Anthony Feldman, May 29, 2002

Number 4

Stephen Osborne May 29, 2002

Number 5 June 20, 2022

Mark Morrow

Press release from the United States Justice Department


A Denver, Colo. company and one of its executives were charged today with rigging bids at stamp auctions held in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced. In a felony case, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Mark Morrow Stamps, Inc. and Mark Morrow, its president, were charged with conspiring with unnamed co-conspirators to submit collusive, noncompetitive and rigged bids at stamp auctions from the early 1980s until at least June 1997. This is the fourth case stemming from the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigation involving collusion by stamp dealers at auctions. Stamps are often sold at auctions at which the highest bid price determines who will purchase the stamps. Auction houses located throughout the U.S. and Europe hold periodic auctions for stamp lots. According to the charge, Mark Morrow Stamps, Inc., Mark Morrow, and their coconspirators carried out the bid-rigging scheme by participating in secret pre-auctions to determine which stamp dealer would be the bidder for specific lots of stamps at the subsequent public auction; by agreeing not to bid at public auctions against other stamp dealers who submitted the highest bid price at the pre-auction; and by making payments to stamp dealers who agreed not to bid at public auctions when they were not the high bidder at the pre-auction. – 2 – “This type of scheme prevents sellers from obtaining fair and competitive pricing,” said James M. Griffin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division’s Criminal Enforcement Program  Read the entire document here XXXXX

National media coverage

Taking the fall