Ex-Augusta National employee pleads guilty in Chicago to stealing Arnold Palmer’s green jacket in $5.3 million Masters memorabilia scheme

Ex-Augusta National employee pleads guilty in Chicago to stealing Arnold Palmer’s green jacket in $5.3 million Masters memorabilia scheme

More than a decade after golf legend Arnold Palmer’s 1958 Masters green jacket vanished from Augusta National Golf Club, federal investigators had tracked it to an elegant brick home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, where the jacket’s owner was looking to sell.

The price was purportedly $3.6 million, negotiated by a Houston-based collector who was acting as a middleman, federal court records show. The buyer was a well-known sports memorabilia broker who’d insisted on seeing the jacket in person first — and who also was secretly cooperating with the FBI, the records show.

“I told you this before, it’s the most money, believe it or not, that I will ever have spent on a single item,” the cooperator told the middleman in a recorded telephone call on March 10, 2022, according to court records. “I’d rather see it with my own eyes.”

Three weeks later, agents were waiting outside the home on West Fullerton Parkway as the sting played out, swooping in and seizing the jacket once the buyers emerged, the records showed.

Inside the lapel were several signature details confirming its authenticity, including a patch stitched with Palmer’s name, the name of the original tailor, and the date the garment was made: “2-19-58.”

The intriguing details were made public Wednesday as a former Augusta National Golf Club employee admitted in federal court in Chicago that he was the one who originally stole Palmer’s green jacket as part of a 13-year scheme to illegally fence more than $5 million worth of Masters Tournament memorabilia.

Richard Brendan Globensky, 39, of Augusta, Georgia, entered his guilty plea to one count of transporting stolen goods across state lines during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman.

The charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, but preliminary federal sentencing guidelines call for a range of 2 to 2 ½ years behind bars. Coleman set a sentencing hearing for Oct. 29.

Globensky appeared in court dressed in a gray suit and red tie. Before entering his guilty plea, Globensky told the judge he’s currently unemployed and previously “did mortgages.”

Prosecutors said Globensky is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, though so far no one else has been charged.

His Atlanta-based attorney, Thomas Church, said there were significant mitigating factors that would come out at sentencing about Globensky’s role in the scheme, but he declined to comment specifically on the investigation.

“We look forward to telling the full story here,” Church said.

The charges against Globensky mark the latest in a string of cases to come down in Chicago involving the murky world of sports memorabilia.

Over the past decade, an Arkansas man was found guilty of a massive scheme that included using a paper slicer to doctor a rare T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, a serial fraudster tried to pass off a phony Babe Ruth home run ball as payment to his lawyer, and three men are currently facing charges alleging they forged autographs of greats like Ty Cobb and Cy Young.

Globensky, who had worked as an assistant at Augusta National’s warehouse since 2007, admitted stealing millions of dollars worth of merchandise from the facility from 2009 to 2022, coordinating with a Florida-based broker by “surreptitiously” taking photos of items to identify which could be sold in online auctions.

Globensky’s 25-page plea agreement with prosecutors stated he had knowledge of audits the club did of warehouse items, and was careful to steal “goods in quantities that he knew fell below (Augusta National’s) auditing risk thresholds.”

Once the items were decided on, Globensky loaded them onto a truck and hid them in an offsite storage facility, according to the plea.

The broker, identified in court records only as Individual A, would sometimes drive to Georgia to pick up the items, while other times Globensky sent them via UPS, according to the plea. Payment to Globensky was hidden through various means, including through a limited liability company in the name of Globensky’s wife, according to the plea.

Many of the stolen items were more mundane keepsakes such as T-shirts, hats, flags, chairs and mugs, most of which had been offered for sale by Augusta National exclusively during the Masters tournament, according to the plea.

There were also bigger-ticket items like commemorative putters, Masters trophies, tournament records and letters from club founder Bobby Jones, according to the plea.

But by far the most lucrative were the coveted green jackets, which are awarded each year to the winner of the Masters and typically kept under tight control by Augusta National.

One of the green jackets Globensky admitted stealing had been awarded to Palmer in 1958 after his first Masters championship, according to the plea. Palmer, who won a total of four Masters tournaments from between that year and 1964, died in 2016 at age 87.

Globensky also stole green jackets given by the club to legendary golfers Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen, according to the plea.

In all, Globensky was paid more than $5.3 million over the 13-year period of the fraud, though the actual loss to Augusta National was closer to $3.5 million, according to the plea.

As part of his plea, Globensky agreed to hand over a cashier’s check for $1.5 million to the government within the next few days. The rest of the forfeiture will be due after he serves his sentence.

The charges against Globensky were filed just days after Augusta hosted the 88th annual Masters Tournament in April, ending with Scottie Scheffler winning his second green jacket.

A private, for-profit club, Augusta National was founded by Jones and Clifford Roberts in 1932 and has hosted the Masters since 1934. The club is notoriously strict with its rules and is known to ban scofflaws for infractions such as running on the course or using a cellphone.

Augusta is also very protective of official memorabilia, particularly the prized green jacket, which it began awarding to Masters champions in 1949.

While details of how Globensky stole Palmer’s green jacket were not included in his plea agreement, court records reviewed by the Tribune on Wednesday laid out the timeline of the investigation, beginning in 2012 when officials at August National first noticed it was missing.

According to an FBI seizure warrant affidavit filed in 2022, the club believed the jacket was stolen during the renovation of its large on-site archive vault where items of historic value were stored. The jacket was discovered missing in an inventory of boxes filled with green jackets that were being moved back into the new space, the document stated.

Augusta National didn’t notify the FBI in Atlanta until 2018, after an internal investigation failed to get to the bottom of the theft, the records show. Four years later, in January 2022, the cooperating memorabilia collector, who was a member of Augusta National, reached out to federal authorities and reported he had been contacted by the person in Houston about potentially buying a Palmer jacket, the affidavit stated.

At the direction of the FBI, the cooperator, identified only as CS-1, negotiated a sale price and recorded phone calls and conversations with the Houston broker, the records show.

“I can get you the jacket for 4.2 (million dollars) … call me to discuss,” the broker texted CS-1 on Feb. 1, 2022, along with a photograph of the inside of the Palmer jacket, the records show. “As you can tell … it even has a dry cleaning tag from Augusta National.”

After some back-and-forth over the price, the Houston broker told CS-1 the seller was going to be in Arizona “for the foreseeable future,” but he could arrange to have the jacket inspected in Chicago with the seller’s son, the affidavit stated.

The broker “also made statements suggesting that he did not believe the jacket was stolen, but acknowledged that it was possible,” the FBI affidavit stated.

As the meeting date grew closer, the Houston broker sent more photos of the jacket along with an online article describing the seller as one of the largest private golf memorabilia collectors in the world, with more than 2,000 pieces displayed in the Lincoln Park home where he’d lived for years.

“He seems like quite the golf collector!” CS-1 told the Houston broker in a recorded call on March 10, 2022, the affidavit stated.

“Yeah,” the broker replied, laughing. “All I ask is that, when we go there, just to protect my kind of reputation with him, because he thinks I’m buying it. You’re just going to be there with me as my buddy … You’re a big golf fan and you wanna just, you’re tagging along because you happen to be in town.”

“That’s fine,” CS-1 replied, according to the affidavit.

The seizure took place outside the seller’s home three weeks later.

The affidavit also stated that the Houston broker may have been lying to CS-1 about the sale price in order to hike up the commission he expected to earn for negotiating the sale.

The Tribune is not identifying the seller because he has not been charged. He did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.