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Auction controversy: Gallery owner tells EW about FBI raid on John Lennon item, rare Lady Gaga demos

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Image Credit: Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty ImagesComing across John Lennon’s signed and fingerprinted mid-1970s application for U.S. residence was a major coup for Gotta Have It! Collectibles CEO Pete Siegel. So he put a photo of the 10 inch by 10 inch cardboard form on the cover of a new auction catalog about a week ago — only to receive a phone call from the FBI within days. “They wanted to inspect the card, so we said, ‘Sure, come in,'” Siegel tells EW. Soon an FBI agent and someone from the Department of Homeland Security showed up at his midtown Manhattan gallery to ask questions about the item’s provenance. (Siegel says he got it from a consigner.) Yesterday morning, the FBI returned with a subpoena and seized the Lennon card.

“I don’t know why it was so important that they had to have it back,” says Siegel. Some reports have speculated that the card was government property, but Siegel says the federal agent mentioned nothing of the kind, only citing “an ongoing investigation” that he would not elaborate on. The FBI infamously put Lennon under surveillance during the 1970s, producing a lengthy file that was only released after a long court battle; it remains unclear what connection, if any, this unspecified current investigation has to do with that old one.

While Siegel complied with the FBI’s subpoena on his attorney’s advice, he still has his doubts about the raid. “My belief is that if it wasn’t John Lennon’s card, if it was anybody else’s, I would never have heard from authorities. I just think that the fact is, anything that has to do with the government and John Lennon, they believe shouldn’t be in the public’s hands.”

That said, the raid hasn’t exactly been bad for business. “I don’t know what’s going on,” says Siegel. “All I know is that I’ve never gotten more press in my life.” And he’s eager to hype the other 849 lots in his Gotta Have Rock and Roll online auction, which opened yesterday and will continue through Oct. 15.

Another particularly interesting item is a 2002 demo CD by Lady Gaga, who was still going by Stefani Germanotta at the time. Siegel says the pop star gave the disc in 2006 to then-manager Bob Leone, who is now putting it up for auction. The CD contains four previously unreleased tunes with names like “Kisses Are Quarters,” “Selfish Girl,” and “In a Dream.” No one besides Gaga, Leone, and the auctioneers has ever heard them.

“It’s a lot more subdued than the stuff she does today,” says Siegel. “She’s got a little bit of Jewel in her. She’s terrific.” He notes that the physical CD is being sold on its own as a collector’s item, not including the associated copyright, so whoever wins won’t be able to publish the rare tunes. “You can go ahead and put it on your iPod and love it and play the disc for your friends or whatever, but it’s totally illegal to [release the music] without the rights.”

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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