By Kevin Nelson
EBay, the most popular auction site for collectors, publishes a list of memorabilia firms whose certificates and letters of authenticity are “not allowed” on the site. But a recent review of this list reveals roughly 30 businesses that were busted by the FBI for their roles in forgeries and fraudulent authentications of memorialia who are missing from eBay’s “not allowed” list. That means collectors who bought signed material from these firms need to know that the items they own might be fake, and the documents that supposedly “authenticated” them could be, too.
While it is impossible to definitively estimate the percentage of forged memorabilia, industry experts concede that more than half of the most sought-after athletes’ and celebrities’ autographed memorabilia is forged, according to the FBI’s online summary of its Operation Bullpen investigation. The FBI believes the trafficking ring targeted in Operation Bullpen created and sold $100 million of forged memorabilia to retailers and consumers in nearly every state, according to FBI documents.
With those kinds of odds, it’s important for collectors to do their homework before they bid. If you collect signed memorabilia of any kind, always be sure to check your Certificates of Authenticity and Letters of Authenticity.
After making the original Operation Bullpen busts in late 1999, the FBI held a widely publicized press conference the next spring, in which it listed the perpetrators by name. Then, in 2002, in the second phase of the Operation Bullpen investigations, the FBI busted a bunch of smaller forgery rings operating mainly out of New York and New Jersey.
Three years later, in 2005, the FBI announced the results of all their memorabilia investigations and released a comprehensive list of “all the Operation Bullpen-involved organizations” it had busted. As someone who has written a book and many articles about the case over the years, I have a copy of the information that was released at that time. This is where I obtained the third set of names listed here – names that were released publicly by the FBI. But the FBI does not list these Phase 2 subjects on its website.
Presumably, these businesses’ COAs and LOAs are still accepted by eBay, if for no other reason than the fact that eBay hasn’t added them to its “Not Allowed” list. According to my comparison of eBay’s “Not Allowed” list and the FBI’s 2005 Operation Bullpen list, these are the discrepancies.
Listed in FBI documents; Missing from eBay’s ‘Not Allowed’ list
These companies – which made millions producing and distributing forged memorabilia while creating phony paper to cover their tracks – are not included eBay’s “Not Allowed” list, despite being identified in the FBI investigations. Their names are:
- A&J Enterprises
- Aladdin Collectibles
- All Sports Cards & Memorabilia
- Autographs by Mail
- Baseball Card Barn
- General Pictures
- Grand Slam Memorabilia
- Hall of Fame Sports Gallery
- Hollywood Don’s
- Hollywood Memories
- Laura’s Cartoons
- LLN Enterprises, Autographs by Mail
- Madison Sports
- Power Sports
- Reel Memories, Hollywood Memories
- Round Five
- Sports Cards
- Sports Legends Memorabilia, American Memorabilia
- Stardust Collectibles
- Truly Unique Collectibles
- Universal Engineering and Development Company
- Wall of Fame
- When It Was a Game.
eBay’s ‘Not Allowed’ list
Businesses and individuals on eBay’s “Not Allowed” list are regarded as “not reputable;” their COAs and LOAs cannot be used to certify material offered on the site. They are listed as follows:
- Ace Authentic
- Coach’s Corner Sports Auctions
- Christopher L. Morales
- CSC Collectibles
- Donald Frangipani
- Forensic Document Services
- Hollywood Dreams
- J. DiMaggio Co./J. DiMaggio Company
- Legends Sports Memorabilia
- Nathan’s Autographs/N.E. Autographs
- Nicholas Burczyk
- Pro Sports/Pro Sports Memorabilia
- Robert Prouty
- R.R.’s Sports Cards & Collectibles
- SCAA/Front Page Art/Angelo Marino
- Slamdunk Sportscards and Memorabilia
- Sports Alley Memorabilia
- Sports Management Group
- Stan’s Sports/Stan’s Sports Memorabilia
- TTA Authentic (formerly STAT Authentic)
- Universal Memorabilia
- XMI Authentications
- USA Authentics.
eBay also prohibits:
- Blank COAs and LOAs
- COAs and LOAs as “stand-alone items.”
- COAs and LOAs “from anyone listed on the FBI’s Operation Bullpen website” (see below).
Operation Bullpen list
eBay’s link to the FBI’s Operation Bullpen site (http://1.usa.gov/12DKmfC) lists the following individuals and businesses:
Catch a Star/JMC Distributors/J&M Sports Cards/Mike Bowler (all of Oceanside, Calif.)
Classic Memorabilia/Hollywood Dreams/Hollywood Collectibles/David Tabb (of Santa Ana, Calif.; not to be confused with any other firms)
Del Mar Sports Cards/Jon Hall (San Diego)
Framed Images/Richard Laughlin (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.)
Front Page Art/John Marino, Gloria Marino, Kathleen Marino, Greg Marino, Angelo Marino
Home Field Advantage/Carmen “Chip” Lombardo (Del Mar, Calif.)
International Sports Marketing/Mike Lopez (Rosemead, Calif.)
La Jolla Sports Cards/Bruce Gaston (La Jolla, Calif.)
Prime Time Sports Cards/Michael Tapales (Buena Park, Calif.)
Pro Sport Memorabilia/Anthony Marino
Rick’s Collectibles/Ricky Weimer (Escondido, Calif.)
Shelly’s Cards/Sheldon Jaffe (Tustin, Calif.)
Sports and Celebrity Authentic Autographs/WW Sports Cards/Wayne Bray (San Marcos, Calif.)
Sports Management Group (Aliso Viejo, Calif.)/Universal Authentic Memorabilia (San Clemente, Calif.)/Sports Alley (Laguna Niguel, Calif.)/Mike Moses/Robyn Moses
The Beautiful and the Unusual/Lowell Katz (Long Beach, Calif.)
Universal Authentic Memorabilia/Reno Ruberti/Karen Ruberti (San Clemente, Calif.)/Scott Harris/Mary Lou Harris.
To summarize, the last two two lists above, consisting of nearly 50 names, represent all of the businesses and individuals whose COAs and LOAs are “not allowed” by eBay, according to its own website. But these are not all the dubious memorabilia firms that were busted by the FBI during Operation Bullpen.
There are nearly 30 more companies that made millions producing and distributing forged memorabilia while creating phony paper to cover their tracks. But they’re not on eBay’s forbidden list. This is the first list of names.
To my knowledge, the three groups named here represent the most complete listing ever published, in one place, of all the companies and people that were publicly busted or targeted by the FBI during Operation Bullpen.
Kevin Nelson is the author of “Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History.” More information can be found at www.OperationBullpen.com.