Federal authorities have charged an area sports memorabilia dealer with possessing hundreds of unlicensed jerseys and photos of various professional football, baseball and hockey teams.
Salvatore Argo, 35, of Mountain Top, who owned the Sports Scene retail store in the Laurel Mall near Hazleton, was charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods or services following a raid at the store on June 5.
The raid, which went down just as Argo was preparing for an autograph session featuring several Philadelphia Eagles football players, resulted in hundreds of jerseys and photos being confiscated from the store and Argo’s home and vehicle.
The charges were filed under seal on June 7. Argo was arraigned on June 14 and released on his own recognizance.
The case is the second to be filed against Argo. In April 2001 he was charged in federal court with selling unlicensed sports items. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in June 2002 to two years probation.
The latest case stems from an investigation conducted by a private investigator for the National Hockey League and National Football League. The investigator advised officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he suspected Argo was selling counterfeit items, according to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint.
Agents raided the store around 10 a.m. on June 5, about 30 minutes before the autograph session was set to begin with Eagles players DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and Nate Allen. The raid resulted in the autograph session being cancelled, disappointing dozens of fans, including many who had prepaid for tickets.
Agents seized 457 unlicensed NFL jerseys and 818 unlicensed NFL photos at the store, according to the affidavit. An additional 511 unlicensed NFL photos, six counterfeit Major League Baseball jerseys and an NFL Mitchell & Ness jersey were confiscated from Argo’s van, the affidavit says.
Contacted Friday, Argo said the bulk of the questioned items did not belong to him. He said they were sent to him by dealers across the country who wanted to get them signed.
“If they send in photos, we get them signed for people. We don’t know if it’s counterfeit or not,” he said.
Everyone who paid for tickets to the autograph session got refunds, Argo said. He estimates the cancellation cost him $50,000 in fees he had to pay the players, as well as advertising and other expenses.
Argo, who was reached by cell phone while at the Allentown Fair, blasted federal officials, accusing them of unfairly targeting him for prosecution while allowing others to sell unlicensed sports memorabilia to go free.
Argo said he was touring the fair and came across at least two tents where dealers were selling unlicensed sports jerseys. He said he tried to contact the agency that raided his store to report the tents, but couldn’t get in touch with anyone.
He also complained that another store in the Laurel Mall was raided the same day as his. Agents took suspected counterfeit items from that store as well, but Argo said to his knowledge, no charges were filed against the owner. He believes he was targeted because he took the initiative to organize the autograph session.
“It’s an absolute joke that they’d go after someone like me trying to do something good for the community by bringing guys here who would come no where near our area,” Argo said. “It smears my name and everything I stand for. Just because I had players there that’s why I was targeted.”
Argo had been scheduled to appear at a hearing on Thursday that would determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold him for trial. That hearing has been continued until Oct. 7 to allow his attorneys, Shelley Centini and Barry Dyller, more time to try to negotiate a plea agreement.
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