Shop owner's tax scam is strike against Rose

Baseball collectibles seller, pal of banned Reds star, took nearly $3M

Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Saturday, June 25, 2005

When Pete Rose Ballpark Collectibles opened its doors in Cooperstown four years ago, it joined more than a dozen other memorabilia shops in a village where baseball legends rule.

The shop's owner, 38-year-old An drew Vilacky, set up his small storefront a short walk from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and carved a niche hawking souvenirs connected to one of the greatest players ever to be banned from baseball. But as he was building his business, Vilacky, a friend and business associate of Pete Rose, also was dodging questions from federal investigators about his role in an elaborate tax-fraud scheme that authorities said fleeced the U.S. government and New York state of nearly $3 million in fraudulent refunds.

Three of Vilacky's co-conspirators were convicted in federal court several years ago, and Vilacky seemed to have escaped being ensnared in the investigation. But last fall, IRS agents looking to tie up the last loose end in the case paid a visit to Cooperstown.

Last week, Vilacky went before a federal judge in Albany and pleaded guilty to a single felony count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, admitting his role in the scheme. According to his plea agreement, Vilacky and three other men, including a former accountant from Norwich, filed dozens of fraudulent tax returns using stolen information and a series of post office boxes in New York City as the drop points.

When confronted with the allegations, Vilacky lied to investigators and perjured himself, as a government witness, during the federal trial of the three co-conspirators - James M. Broten, Sean Campbell and John Ragano - in July 2002, according to his plea agreement.

The scheme unfolded between 1997 and 2001, when a federal grand jury indicted Broten, Campbell and Ragano on charges of conspiring to defraud the IRS, court records show.

For Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader, Vilacky's recent felony conviction in federal court in Albany probably won't help in his continuing effort to get into the Hall of Fame. In 1989, then-commissioner Bart Giamatti, who banned Rose from the sport, told Rose he'd have to change his life in order to be reinstated, with the understanding that he would admit he bet on baseball.

Since Giamatti's declaration, Rose has struggled to clear his name as a long list of shadowy figures have recounted sordid stories about his gambling habits and the alleged lies he told to cover them up.

Now, the Cooperstown shop where Rose has been a fixture on Hall of Fame induction weekends - signing autographs and meeting fans - is under a cloud. And for Rose, who has struggled to rebuild his image, his naysayers are probably certain to raise the criminal case as another example of how he continues picking the wrong friends.

In tightknit Cooperstown, where baseball memories fuel the Main Street street economy, Vilacky's conviction is likely to become a hot topic.

Jeff Idelson, a spokesman for the Hall of Fame, declined com ment, saying the case "has nothing to do with us."

Cooperstown Mayor Carol Waller, who also runs a flower shop, said Vilacky hasn't stood out since coming to the village several years ago.

"I've only had dealings with him as a customer here and he's been fine," Waller said. "He does keep a low profile. He's fixing up his building and he pays his taxes."

But there have been signs of trouble.

In 1997, Otsego County sheriff's officials raided a wax museum run by Vilacky and another man, carting away statues as part of an embezzlement case that targeted a Long Island attorney, Perry Ferrara, who owned the Cooperstown building that housed the museum. At the time, Vilacky sought to distance himself from Ferrara and told reporters he was only a "landlord," according to published reports at the time.

Ferrara was sentenced to six years in prison for stealing $2.7 million from his firm's client escrow account. A former New York prosecutor told the Daily News that year that Vilacky and his partner, Tom Catal, "can't separate themselves from Perry Ferrara." In the paper, the prosecutor said Pete Rose, who was already friends with the men, wasn't involved in any illegal activity, but "didn't choose his friends very well."

The same year authorities raided the wax museum in Cooperstown, Vilacky and Broten - his accountant - began their tax-fraud scheme, according to federal court records. In March 1999, as their crime spree flourished, Vilacky gave Broten the name and Social Security number of his fiancee's ex-husband, which they used to file fraudulent tax returns for more than $45,000.

Rose remains on baseball's ineligible list for admitting he bet on games while managing Cincinnati in the late 1980s. He could not be reached for comment.

Vilacky did not return a telephone call to his shop. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 28.

Brendan Lyons can be reached at 454-5547 or by e-mail at