Two of the defendants who have pleaded guilty to fraud charges for selling bogus game-used jerseys are expected to be sentenced Wednesday while more information about the cases has been released in federal court. Documents indicate that sports trading card companies created large quantities of what were believed to be game-worn memorabilia cards that were instead made from swatches of game issued or even retail jerseys they purchased from the dealers.
The sentencing memoranda filed by attorneys for Brad Wells, Jarrod Oldridge, Steve Jensen, Brad Horne and Bernie Gernay in recent days are aimed at convincing judges to deliver lighter sentences as another chapter in the case nears closure. Wells and Jensen were expected to be sentenced today.
In papers filed in U.S. District Court last week and obtained by Sports Collectors Daily, attorney Michael Iasparro asked a judge to sentence Oldridge to probation instead of the 16-month sentence recommended by federal prosecutors. They say Oldridge, the owner of J.O. Sports, has spent nearly five years assisting them in identifying others involved in the fake jersey scheme that resulted in card companies buying large quantities of bogus jerseys that were cut up and inserted onto trading cards for several years in the decade prior to this one.
In his memorandum, Iasparro stated Oldridge, through other 'suppliers', began filling requests from card companies including Upper Deck and Donruss for various star player jerseys. The jerseys were purchased by the card makers to create insert cards that presumably contained a swatch of game-used memorabilia. In fact, many of the cards were created with jerseys that never saw a playing field of any kind. Oldridge was able to supply the jerseys in no more than a month, and has told investigators that executives at Donruss and Upper Deck asked only for one blanket certificate of authenticity and never questioned his ability to supply multiple 'game worn' jerseys of standout players in less than a 30-day time frame.
After he was first approached by the FBI, Iasparro writes that Oldridge opted to 'come clean' in 2008 and began assisting investigators who were working to round up the suspects who provided fake memorabilia, at times agreeing to recorded phone conversations with those who were on investigators' radar.
Donruss was purchased by Panini America in 2009 and Panini is claiming $7.7 million in revenue lost in the Oldridge case. Oldridge's attorney says that figure represents what the jerseys would have been worth had they actually been game used and isn't relevant.
Upper Deck didn't submit a victim impact statement to the court.
On Tuesday, Rocco Cipparone Jr., the attorney for Wells, indicated in his memorandum that his client sold “hundreds of thousands of dollars worth” of merchandise to Donruss while running Authentic Sports Inc., a Florida-based sports memorabilia company several years ago. An additional $114,745 was quarantined by the FBI during its investigation while $125,908, it appears, was inherited by Panini America after it purchased Donruss. Many of the jerseys distributed prior to the company’s sale were cut up and used to create memorabilia cards for Donruss products that were sold to consumers.
Panini is claiming a $3.37 million loss in the Wells case, a figure his attorney is also disputing. Additionally, Cipparone told the court that Donruss made “millions of dollars” in profits on the non-genuine jerseys that were turned into cards. He also says the card maker should have known there was a chance they were fake based on the prices its buyers paid for the jerseys and thus, shouldn’t be entitled to any restitution.
Court documents filed earlier in the case indicated Wells’ company had also sold a smaller number of fake jerseys to Upper Deck and Topps but that information wasn’t provided in the memorandum. Several of those documents remain under seal.
The revelation is the first time any documentation on the monetary value of fake jerseys sold to card companies has been offered in any of the cases. However, prosecutors charged that Wells and others involved in the federal indictment obtained "hundreds” of retail or game issued jerseys from a variety of sources including eBay, then fraudulently made them look game used so they could be sold as such to card companies and other dealers.
FBI agent Brian Brusokas came to the 2009 National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland to interview Wells about the case and when confronted with evidence, prosecutors say Wells admitted to wrongdoing and then offered valuable information to investigators about others who were later charged for similar offenses.
It’s that cooperation, together with several letters from Wells’ family and friends, which Cipparone has filed in an effort to convince the court to go along with the government’s recommendation that Wells be sentenced to 27-33 months in prison instead of typical guidelines in fraud cases. The attorney even cited Wells’ status as “one of the nation’s youngest Eagle Scouts” at age 13.
“The lasting stigma and collateral consequences of this federal felony conviction, along with a sentence of probation, will provide sufficient general and specific deterrence,” Cipparone wrote in his memorandum filed Tuesday. “Although the nature and circumstances of the offense are of course serious, the conduct by Bradley Wells was aberrational and inconsistent with his well-established solid good character, the latter of which warrants significant sentence mitigation. “
Horne, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud in November of 2011, sold $164,000 worth of counterfeit memorabilia to Donruss/Panini but the “majority” of the jerseys sold were authentic, according to papers filed by his attorney, New York-based Jeffrey Lichtman. Panini also has $39,731 worth of merchandise it is unable to use as part of the case. The card maker claims it lost $1.3 million as a result of its dealings with Horne.
Horne, too, is hoping remorse, claims of a traumatic childhood, letters of support from friends and cooperation in the other jersey fraud cases prosecuted by the feds will work in his favor when sentencing is handed down.
“Mr. Horne was instrumental in causing Bradley Wells, a defendant in a related case, to resume course and start cooperating with the government again after Mr. Horne turned over a counterfeit Peyton Manning jersey provided by Wells with instructions to Mr. Horne to pass it off as legitimate,” Lichtman claims in his memorandum.
Jensen, who was famously taken off the show floor in handcuffs by U.S. Postal Inspectors at the 2011 National in Chicago, has also provided information to authorities and prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 4-10 months in prison. He pleaded guilty to mail fraud last February.
Gernay, who lives in New Jersey and now runs a tree service, was assigned a federal defender to represent him in court. In papers filed last week, attorney Paul Gaziano asked the court to sentence his client to probation. Prosecutors have sought an 18-month sentence for his part in the scheme. Gaziano stated in his sentencing memorandum that Gernay was involved from 2006-2008 and cooperated with investigators.
Horne, Oldridge and Gernay are expected to be sentenced later this month.