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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

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