Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2017 Issue

District Attorney's Investigator Sentenced to Five Years in Prison in Theft of $200,000 Worth of Comic Books

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All Star #3, still in its protective sleeve, when offered by Heritage Auctions.

An investigator for the Harris County (Houston), Texas, District Attorney was recently convicted of stealing around $200,000 worth of comic books. Dustin Deutsch was sentenced to five years in prison on charges that could have resulted in as much as a life sentence. As to how someone who worked for the DA came to steal $200,000 worth of comics, the answer is the theft was work related. This is a long and intriguing tale, which starts with a $9 million embezzlement by a man whose crime Deustch was tasked with investigating. Here is that tale.

 

Anthony Chiofalo was a New York City lawyer at the beginning of this century. For whatever reason, his life went into a tailspin. His marriage broke down and he apparently became unhinged. He began writing hostile letters to various parties, eventually having his law license suspended. He needed to restart his life, and that he did, hooking up with an old lady friend in the Houston area. He secured a good job as in-house attorney for Tadano America Corp., a division of a Japanese company that makes huge cranes. Most people might have felt they had achieved the good life. For Chiofalo, it wasn't enough, not nearly.

 

Chiofalo began embezzling funds. He wrote out fake invoices to non-existent law firms for assisting him and the like. As often happens when a person gets away with a crime, they become emboldened to commit more. The embezzlements increased, eventually reaching $9 million. Meanwhile, management at Tadano began wondering why their legal bills had become so large. They questioned Chiofalo, who produced phony invoices to explain the costs. However, investigations of those revealed they were fake. With the walls now closing in on him, Chiofalo took off. He was on the run for many months before deciding it was better to face the music than continue to hide and turned himself in. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but with an opportunity for parole in no more than 10.

 

As Chiofalo's crime became apparent, authorities obtained a warrant to search his property. Among those locations were several storage units he rented. In them they found all kinds of collectibles. There was much in the way of sports memorabilia and approximately 50 boxes of comic books. They were an eclectic mix, not a logical collection. However, among them were many of substantial value. Some of them were traced back to comic book auctions. Comic books of value are usually kept in identifying plastic sleeves for protection, which makes it easy to trace their history. Even when they aren't in sleeves, valuable copies usually have telltale identifiers such as creases or folds in a particular spot, foxing, maybe a small tear. As with very valuable old books, they can be hard to fence as experts can identify individual copies from these attributes.

 

Dustin Deutsch was put in charge of sorting through the massive amount collectibles in the storage units. He was assisted by Lonnie Blevins, also of the DA's office, and others. Deutsch and Blevins had been close friends since their days back in police academy and even operated an investigative business together. They needed to account for the evidence and determine what valuables Chiofalo might have taken with him when he absconded. At some point during the process, two of the 50 boxes of comics disappeared, including a couple of very valuable ones.

 

A few weeks later, Blevins showed up at a Comic-Con convention in Chicago with some loose comics. Unsleeved valuable comic books generally arouse suspicion among collectors, but Blevins had an explanation. He had inherited them from his father, who presumably held onto them for years and treated them like an amateur, rather than professional collector. Blevins allayed those fears further by showing his police badge from Texas. He sold them for $70,000, a great bargain for the unnamed collectors who bought them, or so they thought.

 

One of the comics they bought was All Star Comics #3. When the buyer brought the comic to an appraiser, the appraiser realized that a copy of this comic book had been sold at Heritage Auctions only a few months earlier. Looking at it, it appeared to be the same copy, based on slight folds and other distinguishing marks. Of course, it could have been Blevins who purchased the comic, but why would he now sell it cheaply with a box of others, and why on earth would he remove it from its protective, and identifying, sleeve? That made no sense. It would take only a little research to determine that it had been purchased by Chiofalo and had been removed from the storage units he rented to hold the collectibles he purchased with embezzled funds.

 

Blevins had little chance of beating the rap on this one, so he pleaded guilty. He is awaiting sentencing. Blevins has been said to be cooperative with investigators, undoubtedly hoping for a reduced sentence. One of those acts of cooperation was to testify at the trial of his longtime friend, Deutsch.

 

Blevins testified that one afternoon, the power went out to a storage locker, shutting down the sensors. He said Deutsch then suggested they use the opportunity to take some of the comics. According to Blevins, Deutsch said that with such an enormous amount of goods, including 50 boxes of comics, no one would ever notice if two boxes disappeared. They waited until others left and took some comics, arriving early two days later to steal some more. Evidently, they did not realize that such valuable comics would readily be traceable by their attributes, regardless of how small a part of a large collection they were.

 

All along, Deutsch maintained his innocence, pointing out that it was only Blevins who was ever seen with their possession, and claiming he acted alone. However, it was Deutsch who possessed the keys to the storage units and controlled their access. As tarnished as Blevins' reputation was, the jury found his testimony and explanation more believable than that of Deutsch. Dustin Deutsch was convicted and, a few days later, sentenced to five years in prison.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.

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