Monday, March 21, 2005

IRS Collection

The IRS name is a misnomer - collector Aran Stubbs worked for the Colorado Department of Revenue, not the Internal Revenue Service - but we're stuck with it, as we shall explain in a moment.

Aran Stubbs was, in the words of his lawyer, "a little different than the average person." "Very eccentric-looking," said Dorothy Dahlquist, a publicist with CDR. "Very eccentric-acting. And absolutely brilliant." "He had a very special Spartan lifestyle," according to attorney Steven Katzman. "It was just Aran and his dog." And as far as anyone could tell, Stubbs didn't care a whole bunch about the dog. He had two passions in life - computers and comic books - and his genius was figuring out a way to use the first to acquire the second.

When Stubbs was first hired by the Department of Revenue, the agency didn't run background checks, so the agency never discovered that its new clerk had two convictions for burglary as a teenager and in 1979 had pleaded guilty to mail fraud, serving four months of a four-year sentence. All CDR knew was that Stubbs was very good at his job and very adept with computers. He rose steadily through the ranks and kept his eyes open. By the time Stubbs became a chief computer programmer in 1990, he knew how the system worked.

He knew, for example, that if someone prepaid an estimated tax, then died due a refund, CDR would never send it out. Because no one would file for the refund, CDR would stow the money in that unopened account forever. "Never say forever." That was Stubb's motto. He had a huge comic book collection - several hundred long boxes - but he didn't have the money to fill in all the holes until he started tapping those unopened accounts.

"Aran would manipulate the system," Dahlquist explained, "forcing it to issue a check, either to himself or to the account. then he would either intercept the check or have it sent to his house." Dahlquist said agency investigators believe Stubbs began diverting funds in August 1991, and for several months no one was the wiser. Stubbs kept the checks small and his ears open, in case CDR had plumbers listening in for small leaks. As he hit the major-league mail-order dealers around the country, he always paid with cash.

But the caution didn't last. "The process got addictive," Katzman said. "You don't know when enough is enough. Greed overtakes your better judgment. The thing overtook him." Stubb's mistake was to begin paying for his larger orders not with cash but with the actual state warrants. "He contracted at least one dealer," Dahlquist said, "saying, 'I am representing a group of people who want to invest in comic books. I will send you a Colorado state income tax warrant. It will be endorsed. Just use that as payment.'"

The scheme quickly pricked the suspicions of one dealer, Harley Yee of Detroit, who called the Department of Revenue and asked if the check was good. When the investigator researched the refund check, he discovered the name on the check belonged to a dead man. Dahlquist said the agency security systems were already tracking a thief inside the agency: "We knew someone was doing it. The comic book angle identified Aran."

Stubbs was arrested on March 19, 1992. "If the scheme had run its full course," Katzman said, "Aran would have been out of the country. He didn't expect them to find out about it so soon." Estimates of what Stubbs stole ranged from $150,000 to $500,000, but the state eventually settled on $180,000. Stubbs was charged with a Class 3 felony - theft over $10,000 - and pleaded guilty to a Class 5 offense, embezzlement of public property.

Stubbs could have gone to jail for up to 16 years on the original charge; he ended up escaping prison time entirely. Instead, he was sentenced to four years' probation and ordered to forfeit his collection to repay the Department of Revenue. The collection consisted of 400 long boxes, or approximately 60,000 comics. Stubbs had stored the best of the lot - Detective #38, for example, and Showcase #4 - in three freezers in his house. In no mind to go into the retail business, the CDR decided to auction off the entire array in one lot by sealed bid.

The winners of the auction - RTS Unlimited of Golden, Colorado - quickly dubbed their take the "IRS Collection" in huge, obnoxious ads in the Comics Buyer's Guide. Although others who had viewed the collection came away unimpressed by its quality or the number of key books, RTS promised buyers that "each comic will be issued with a certificate of authenticity to validate it's pedigree and unique origin from this important part of comicdom history."

How important? RTS demanded $22.85 ($19.95 for the catalog and $2.90 for shipping and handling) for the "100+-page inventory listing" of Aran Stubb's ill-gotten gains.

--from Comics: Between the Panels

5 comments:

Aran said...

I did too love my dogs, Lucky and Suerte.

calamerica said...

Wow! Are you interested in Mr. Stubbs dealings on eBay as recent as a year or two ago? Interesting way he has with dealing with his one-time customers.

RTS Unlimited, Inc. said...

Hi, as the purchaser of the infamous IRS collection, it is interesting to read other people's take on things. I wish the author of the article had contacted me before publishing what he said. There is one MAJOR factual error in the article: I did not name the collection. Bruce Ellsworth, Overstreet advisor, and then owner of Bruce's Comics in Santa Fe NM, named the collection. He, like many dealers, heard about the collection, came up to Denver to view it and named it before I even looked at it! I believe the name was first reported in either a CBM or a CBG article. Also, when I started selling the collection, I did not have certificates of authenticity. After SEVERAL collectors requested certificates, I made them. True this was a marketing ploy, you have to admit, it is a pretty interesting story. Do I think the collection is a pedigree? Not really. It must be remembered that the king of pedigrees, the Church / Mile High collection, had books in it that were bought second hand and not all the books were VF or better. Living in Colorado, I got a chance to buy a few Mile Highs and the books from the late '30s and early ‘50s tended to be in less than great shape. Are the Nicholas Cage collection and the Stan Lee collection pedigrees? Extremely doubtful. True, the average grade of books in the IRS Collection is about VG. It is MASSIVE though - 60,000+ books! The point I'm trying to make is that the "IRS Collection" is a really bizarre story and collectors appreciate the certificates. Do I charge more for "IRS" books, no.

Per the "obnoxious" ads in the CBG - that's in the eyes of the beholder isn't it? As for the "huge" size - yes, they were full page ads. Tons of other dealers had full page ads. So? The $19.95 for the listing of the collection, if memory serves me as this was about 10 years ago, could be used against purchases from the collection. Funny, how can an ad can "Demand" payment? I have never "demanded" anything. I'm not sure what this guy's beef is. Anyway, I sold a few of those catalogs to happy collectors. So, people thought it was worth it. I've heard that IRS books show up on EBay from time to time and people tout that fact. So, some people at least, see some value in the certificates and the story.

The IRS Collection got me on the map as a dealer. It allowed me to travel the country and meet a lot of cool people and fellow collectors. I've always run my business as a collector trying to help fellow collectors. I pride my business on honest and fair dealing. I've received the CBG customer service award and am an Overstreet Advisor. Check out my website: www.rtsunlimited.com

On a side note, I used to see Aran at auctions at the Mile High Comics store on Broadway in Denver. He did buy a ton of stuff and we occasionally bid against each other. Those were the days! Mile Highs would go for GUIDE or LESS(!!) at those auctions! At one of the first shows I did as a dealer, I sold some comics to Aran. Little did I know I'd get those comics back very shortly! For a while after getting paroled, Aran worked for Mile High comics. He's an interesting guy to talk to and one of the most knowledgeable people about comics I have ever met.

I'd love to hear from other collectors whether it be about Aran, the IRS Collection, or comics in general. Drop me a line! You can reach me by e-mail at rtsunlimited@earthlink.net

Anyway, that's my 2 cents on the article. I love comics and just want to share my enthusiasm and help some collectors along the way!

Cheers! - Tim C., RTS Unlimited, Inc.

Rick said...

Wow, great responses all.

Tim, thanks for taking the time to share your views.

Dr. J. said...

Got an FF from this collection,in a trade. Very interesting stuff,to copy up, & add to the certificate,i got with the book.Got to admire the nerve of the fellow.As smart as he was dumb, getting caught as he did.