Federal Agents Bust Fake Sports Memorabilia RingBy

Federal Agents Bust Fake Sports Memorabilia Ring

Nationwide Scam May Top $100 million

A federal investigation of fake sports and celebrity autographed memorabilia resulted in the breakup of a network allegedly responsible for selling up to $100 million of fraudulent merchandise.

Over 10,000 baseballs were seized along with bats, hats, helmets, pucks, jerseys, photos, posters and other items. A 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse was rented by authorities to hold all the confiscated goods.

Agents seized the material while executing 60 search warrants at locations in five states: California, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Florida. Over 400 Special Agents of the FBI and IRS were involved in the operation. The value of the forged memorabilia seized is estimated at $10 million.

FBI Agent in Charge Timothy Fitzsimmons of the San Diego office told ACRN in a phone interview that all the persons arraigned so far have been from southern California. "However, the investigation is continuing and we expect more charges to be filed," said Fitzsimmons. "As you can tell from the execution of the search warrants, the investigation is nationwide."

Forged athlete and celebrity autographs found on the various objects seized included: Mother Teresa, President Ronald Reagan, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Tony Gwynn.

Also seized were hundreds of "cut signatures", or "cuts" a trade name for famous signatures cut out of documents or letters. Forged cuts which were seized or purchased during the investigation included: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Cagney, Walt Disney, Charles Chaplin, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Cy Young and Roberto Clemente

The forgers used historically correct ink, writing implements, and paper for the time period the signature was purported to have been made. Old period paper was acquired by tearing blank pages from old books.

In documents related to the investigation, the FBI says many memorabilia experts believe up to ninety percent of autographed celebrity and sports items on the market today are forged. Using these estimates, forgeries may total $500,000,000 to $900,000,000 of the $1 billion memorabilia market.

The FBI offers the following suggestions to avoid buying fake or forged autographed memorabilia.

First, don't be overly impressed by appraisals or certificates of authenticity. Individuals and companies involved with selling forged memorabilia often include some type of Certificate of Authenticity, allegedly from a third party expert. Often, the authenticator is either a knowing, or unknowing but incompetent, participant in the fraud. Carefully read the Certificate of Authenticity, looking for the authentication "language", an address, telephone number and name of the authenticators. Do not accept copies of certificates of authenticity; insist on examining the actual certificate in person.

A photograph of an athlete or celebrity signing an autograph is no guarantee the item is authentic. This investigation revealed that it is a common practice of forged memorabilia traffickers to include a photograph of the athlete/celebrity signing the item along with a Certificate of Authenticity. Traffickers also include photographs of themselves with the athlete/celebrity to lend credibility to their forged memorabilia.

Items represented to be from an individual or company which hired an athlete or celebrity for a paid signing session have no guarantee of authenticity. Agents have discovered it is common practice for forged memorabilia traffickers to mix in forged memorabilia with items signed during legitimate autograph sessions. For example, the forgers may arrange a legitimate contract with an athlete to sign 500 items. After the signing, the company will mix in forgeries with the authentic autographs.

The method of selling memorabilia should not affect a healthy skepticism about the item's authenticity. One such sales method is through charity auctions where buyers often do not question the authenticity of the items. Many buyers frequently overpay for the items as well thinking it will be for a good cause. The unsuspecting charity doesn't realize it has been an unwitting tool in helping the forgers sell their goods.

The seizures and charges were announced April 11, 2000 in San Diego, California and capped a three year investigation.