Please distance yourself from possible fraud Steve Aoki until his charity foundation provides financial transparency
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Yesterday CGC posted on Instagram about a collaboration between CGC and Steve Aoki's Cardhouse (link). Today I left a comment on the post, but figured Instagram wasn't the best place for any sort of discussion to occur, so I've come here to make a more detailed thread. This is not a thread I want to be writing, but I can't sit idly by whilst someone CGC is now associated with is potentially committing fraud.

Before I begin, this is the response I left on Instagram in full:

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Aoki's charity foundation has failed to provide financial transparency after repeated requests going back to 2019. It's general consensus that his foundation is nothing more than a tax haven and that donations have likely been used to fund personal Pokémon purchases.

Until Aoki's foundation provides transparency I'm going to continue to believe he's nothing more than a fraud. CGC, as you now have a relationship with him, I implore you to pressure Aoki into providing Charity Navigator with financial information about his foundation so that we can hopefully see that he hasn't deceived thousands of Pokémon fans out of millions of dollars.

Steve Aoki began dealings with the Pokémon community in a charity drive in late 2019 in partnership with PSA. People were required to donate money to Aoki's Aoki Foundation and in turn would receive PSA-graded Pokémon cards autographed by Steve Aoki. During this event it became clear that the Aoki Foundation wasn't at all transparent, so a few of us set out to get the foundation to publicise their financial information so that we could be sure the money being donated would go to the causes they claimed they were supporting.

Our calls were ignored, and as such bodies like Charity Navigator still nearly 2 years on have no accountability information for the Aoki Foundation (link).

At the start of 2020 the Aoki Foundation's 2018 IRS 990PF tax form was made available publicly (link), revealing that of $202,000 raised in donations, only $10,000 went towards charity (as a donation to the American Red Cross, specifically). No other IRS 990PF forms have been made publicly available, and as such it is currently unknown how much money the Aoki Foundation has received and what percentage of that money has benefited the charities it claims to support.

Since 2019 the Aoki Foundation has been involved in several other charitable events aimed at the Pokémon community, including the most recent "Pokémon Saves The World" box break in partnership with Goldin Auctions. I made a writeup on E4 revealing that the majority of money the charity foundations this auction benefited had either no financial accountability or saw less than 55% of proceeds raised having any impact on the cause they support - one of which, the Collaboration Center Foundation, sees over half of the donations they receive going towards salaries paid to the founder and the treasurer. These charitable organisations were hand-picked by the Aoki Foundation (link).

It's now almost 2022 and the Aoki Foundation has failed to answer calls to provide financial transparency, which is something legitimate charitable organisations would provide without hesitation. It is believed by a lot of people in the Pokémon community that the Aoki Foundation is nothing more than a tax haven which has deceived thousands of people out of millions of dollars.

The PSA signing event was supposed to be a one-off, but Steve Aoki still personally autographs his own cards and gets them graded by PSA to sell on the Aoki Foundation's eBay page in listings which make no claims that the money benefits the foundation in any way. He also frequently uses and misuses Pokémon's IP to advertise his collection and his foundation. Steve Aoki now can and no doubt will use his new found collaboration with CGC to grade cards with CGC in the same way.

Dear CGC, please either stop all dealing with Steve Aoki, or use your new found partnership with him to pressure him into doing what's right and letting us all know exactly where our donations to his charity foundation end up, because right now a lot of us believe those donations are doing nothing more than lining his own pocket and the pockets of those associated with him.

Edited by PichuCollector
Corrected a typo.
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On 11/8/2021 at 2:54 AM, poke_naynay said:

Is there is a legitimate reason the foundation would not release their financial info?

 

Seems very sketchy overall.

Aoki is sketchy in general. Just watch him on Whatnot for 5 minutes and you can get that vibe.

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The whole Aoki thing has been a money-grab since the beginning. The bullsh** 'Aoki Mystery Boxes' is a joke. I personally know people who never received theirs, and the people that have received the incorrect guaranteed grade (obviously lower).

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On 11/6/2021 at 1:42 PM, PichuCollector said:

Yesterday CGC posted on Instagram about a collaboration between CGC and Steve Aoki's Cardhouse (link).

Hello,

 

Thank you for your concern, but CGC is not directly associated with the Aoki Foundation. Mr. Aoki has an extensive Pokémon card collection, some of which he submitted to CGC Trading Cards for certification. The custom label that you saw in the post is a private label, produced only for cards that he submitted to CGC Trading Cards from his collection.

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On 11/8/2021 at 7:00 PM, CGC Mike said:

Hello,

 

Thank you for your concern, but CGC is not directly associated with the Aoki Foundation. Mr. Aoki has an extensive Pokémon card collection, some of which he submitted to CGC Trading Cards for certification. The custom label that you saw in the post is a private label, produced only for cards that he submitted to CGC Trading Cards from his collection.

I'm not sure how you can say you aren't directly associated and at the same time you made a private label specifically for cards from his collection. Is everyone able to get custom labels for stuff for their collection? If not then it is 100% a partnership. Whether you created the label for him in exchange for advertisement or he paid extra for it, its a partnership.

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On 11/9/2021 at 1:00 AM, CGC Mike said:

Hello,

 

Thank you for your concern, but CGC is not directly associated with the Aoki Foundation. Mr. Aoki has an extensive Pokémon card collection, some of which he submitted to CGC Trading Cards for certification. The custom label that you saw in the post is a private label, produced only for cards that he submitted to CGC Trading Cards from his collection.

Thanks for your response.

I don't believe that this was just some guy grading cards from their extensive collection, as you put it. I believe I have the most extensive Pichu card collection in the world, but I can't imagine CGC would have any interest in collaborating with me to allow me to have my own custom label design and pedigree.

If the cards CGC had graded for him were unique, rare or vintage I would completely buy into the "submitted from his collection" statement, but the reality is that you've graded over 200 cards with this custom label which are almost entirely valueless modern main set cards consisting of a lot of duplicates. (Case in point: two reverse holofoil Champion's Path Kakuna cards (https://www.cgccomics.com/certlookup/3905790148 and https://www.cgccomics.com/certlookup/3905790149 - two cards which are readily available on the market in mint condition for less than $0.25).

Aoki's Cardhouse is more akin to a brand than a collection, advertising for companies like MetaZoo, promoting NFTs and - most relevant to CGC - using his PSA "Aoki's Collection" pedigree label to fetch higher prices on PSA-graded cards which he frequently grades and auctions off on Instagram and through his eBay page, or worse, act as bait in his questionable charity drives.

My concern here is that you've unintentionally given him extra fuel to deceive people out of their money. Not only does he have a PSA pedigree to use and abuse, but now he also has a fancy CGC label that regular submitters have no access to. Even if CGC is not directly associated with the Aoki Foundation, you've collaborated (CGC's own words) with the foundation's frontman and these cards will very likely feature in sales disguised as charity drives in future. This is irrespective of whether you did this in partnership with him, as some sort of favouritism towards him or simply because you believe that he does have some extensive and noteworthy Pokémon collection consisting of a handful of quite literally worthless modern cards.

CGC has done a fantastic job building trust and respectability in the TCG community, but acts like this leave a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths. Until the Aoki Foundation publishes their financial information I will continue to believe that Steve Aoki is a fraud who is abusing the trust of the Pokémon TCG community for financial gain - regardless of it being a direct association between CGC and the Aoki Foundation, there is now a direct association between CGC and Steve Aoki.

tl;dr: All I'm trying to do here is prevent people from being unknowingly scammed. The Aoki Foundation currently has all the hallmarks of being a fraudulent organisation, and if anyone here is seriously considering donating I insist you please do some due diligence and put your money to better use. I personally only donate to charities which put at least 80% of their donations towards the cause(s) they support, and at present I have no reason to believe Aoki's Foundation even hits 5%. Steve Aoki is not somebody CGC should have any interest in doing business with.

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