What's next for the Giants and Eli Manning amidst Memorabiliagate?

Do you own or have you bought for someone else an authentic Eli Manning “game used” jersey or helmet?

If you have, you might want to see if your receipt still lets you return it.

As first reported by New York Post writers Kaja Whitehouse and Bruce Golding, new court papers contain copies of emails allegedly sent by Manning seven years ago that suggest the Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI Most Valuable Player intentionally misrepresented the authenticity of equipment he provided Steiner Sports Memorabilia as part of a deal he had with the company. Steiner Sports offers a wide selection of memorabilia to consumers and guarantees the authenticity of items it sells.

Assuming the accuracy of the court papers filed, a then 29-year-old Manning emailed Giants equipment manager Joseph Skiba on Apr. 27, 2010 with a simple request: provide Manning with “two helmets that can pass as game used.” Manning made the request at the behest of his marketing agent, Alan Zucker, who had been contacted by Steiner Sports about its desire for two “game used” helmets and jerseys. A few days later, Skiba appeared to admit in an email to sports collector Eric Inselberg that the “game used” jersey and helmet he distributed were “bs” since Manning didn’t want to share actual game used jerseys.

The integrity of football jerseys has both economic and legal significance

On the surface, whether equipment attributed to Manning was actually “game used” or merely scuffed up to appear as game used might not seem like a big deal. After all, the equipment is fundamentally the same whether it was used in a game or not.

But that thinking ignores the importance of memorabilia categorization and the damage that can be done to a collector’s reputation if he or she is viewed as selling fraudulent goods.

In the sports memorabilia world, a “game used” or “game worn” jersey means something altogether different from a “game issued” jersey or an “authentic” jersey, and it has a greater value, too. A game used or game worn jersey is a jersey that was worn in an actual game. Such a jersey can have considerable value if worn by a star player in a key game. The recent controversy involving Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jerseys evidences that point: some collectors estimate that the Brady Super Bowl jerseys are worth over $500,000. This is because they were actually worn by Brady in his Super Bowl victories, which makes them unique, scarce and historic. A “game issued” jersey is identical to a game used jersey and was capable of being worn by a player in a game. It is different, however, because it wasn’t actually worn by the player in that game, and thus has less historic value. As to an “authentic” jersey, it is one that consumers can buy in stores, and is often signed by the player. A framed Eli Manning signed jersey can be bought for around $1,000 on steinersports.

Manning’s apparent admission has been made public as part of a lawsuit that began in 2015 and continues to this day. A group of collectors led by Inselberg sued Manning, Giants owner John Mara, Steiner Sports and others in a New Jersey Superior Court. The plaintiffs, who are represented by attorney Brian Brook of Clinton Brook & Peed, contend that Manning was part of a racketeering scheme to distribute and sell fraudulent memorabilia. The alleged fraud reflects inauthentic equipment being marketed under false pretenses. Racketeering is a serious allegation. It requires proof that two or more persons conspired to commit an unlawful act as a method of obtaining illegally derived income. Whether such proof can be proven in this case remains to be seen.

The plaintiffs also insist that Manning and his co-defendants engaged in malicious prosecution. The Giants did so, Inselberg asserts, by implicating Inselberg in wrongful activity when the FBI investigated Inselberg and others for memorabilia fraud in 2010. This is also a serious allegation since a grand jury would indicate Inselberg on four counts mail fraud in 2012. Federal prosecutors, however, dismissed the case a year later. Inselberg insists that the defendants pinned the blame for fake memorabilia on Inselberg in order to escape their own criminal prosecution for distributing fraudulent items.

The lawsuit contains still other claims, including that the defendants allegedly libeled Inselberg as a peddler of false goods. Further, the Inselberg insists, the defendants interfered with Inselberg’s capacity to do business by—in Inselberg’s view—falsely implicating him in wrongdoing. In essence, Inselberg reasons, if he is viewed as selling fake goods no one will buy from him.

This is a civil, not criminal, controversy

To be clear, although the allegations in Inselberg’s lawsuit portray Manning and his Giants co-defendants as having committed criminal acts, none were charged with any crimes. There is also no known evidence that they were investigated for criminal conduct.

In addition, the defendants almost certainly won’t be charged with crimes over this memorabilia controversy going forward. For one, if they were going to be charged, they likely would have already been charged: the FBI investigated this matter years ago. Second, the relevant statute of limitations for plausibly related criminal charges have likely expired by this point. In New Jersey and New York, for example, most crimes must be charged within five years or six years, respectively, or they are time-barred. The same is generally true for the kinds of federal charges that would be in play in this type of situation.

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ELI MANNING ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED IN SCHEME TO SELL FAKE GAME-WORN MEMORABILIA

Eli Manning had a role in the New York Giants' scheme to sell fake game-used memorabilia, Kaja Whitehouse and Bruce Golding of the New York Post reported.

Per court documents, Manning sent an email to equipment manager Joe Skiba that read, "2 helmets that can pass as game used. That is it. Eli."

This came shortly after a request from marketing agent Alan Zucker for two game-used helmets and jerseys.

Manning, Skiba and the Giants were among those named in a lawsuit from three memorabilia collectors.

Another email exchange featured Skiba admitting to the plaintiff that Manning created the fake memorabilia because he "didnt want to give up the real stuff."

Manning and the Giants were first sued over these allegations in 2014. Last March, the plaintiff claimed the Giants gave former player Michael Strahan a bogus jersey he thought was used during Super Bowl XLII.

One fake game-used helmet from Manning is also supposedly in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Giants defend Eli Manning amid claim of false memorabilia

Eli Manning turned over a potentially incriminating email earlier this month in connection with a lawsuit that claims the quarterback, the New York Giants and a team equipment manager knowingly provided false game-worn memorabilia to collectors.

The email was included in a court filing in Bergen County (N.J.) Superior Court by the plaintiffs -- collectors Eric Inselberg, Michael Jakab and Sean Godown -- who first filed suit three years ago.

On April 27, 2010, Manning sent an email to Giants head equipment manager Joe Skiba asking for "two helmets that can pass as game used." The email was initiated after Manning was sent a note by Alan Zucker, his marketing agent throughout his career, to come up with some equipment to satisfy his obligation to provide such materials to sports memorabilia company Steiner Sports.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Brian Brook of Clinton, Brook & Peed, told ESPN that the email, included among roughly 200 pages of documents Manning produced as part of legal discovery, was key to specifically linking the quarterback to the lawsuit, which alleges an elaborate scheme to produce, pass off and sell memorabilia as game-used that was not.

Prior to that email, the lawsuit had included only an alleged conversation between Manning and Skiba to put together some equipment that could be described as game-used. The lawsuit alleges that Manning not only had been aware of the passing off of inauthentic items of his as game-used but also was party to their creation.

The suit also alleges that the Giants were complicit by deleting the email from their accounts.

"The email, taken out of context, was shared with the media by an unscrupulous memorabilia dealer and his counsel who for years has been seeking to leverage a big payday," McCarter & English, the law firm representing the Giants in the case, said in a statement. "The email predates any litigation, and there was no legal obligation to store it on the Giants server. Eli Manning is well known for his integrity and this is just the latest misguided attempt to defame his character."

The release of the email to the public record through the filing was first reported by the New York Post.

Brook said that, based on what he believes was the Giants' cooperation with authorities, his client, Inselberg, was one of six memorabilia dealers indicted for selling fake game-used items after an FBI investigation. The charges against Inselberg were dropped when the Justice Department admitted it lacked evidence, and Inselberg, believing his reputation was greatly damaged, then filed the lawsuit against the Giants.

The Giants conducted an internal investigation in 2011 into their selling and producing of game-used memorabilia.

The plaintiffs' claim around that specific investigation has been dismissed, but Brook is still arguing that the results of the investigation should be admissible in court. Brook said the Giants have subpoenaed 70 connections to Inselberg and still have not been able to find any evidence that he fabricated any memorabilia.

Inselberg, who loaned many pieces of his collection to a memorabilia collection inside MetLife Stadium, said he had purchased hundreds of game-used items directly from the Giants' equipment managers. Inselberg alleges that he was sold many of the game-used items, including a Michael Strahan Super Bowl game-used jersey that was authenticated and photo matched, despite the fact that the Giants presented another jersey to Strahan and told him that that was his jersey from the game.

The lawsuit claims other allegedly fake items included ones described as game-used from Manning, Osi Umenyiora and Tiki Barber.

It is not likely that Manning, the Giants or their employees would be subject to criminal prosecution as the alleged actions in question have passed the federal five-year statute of limitations.

The trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 25.

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