The owner of Minnesota-based Vintage Authentics was arrested on the floor of the National Sports Collectors Convention in Rosemont, Ill. Thursday morning. Investigators from the United States Postal Inspection Service arrested 40-year-old Steve Jensen, who was taken away in handcuffs and booked on charges of mail and wire fraud involving what inspectors tell Sports Collectors Daily was the sale of a fake 1995 Alex Rodriguez Seattle Mariners jersey advertised as game worn. According to a criminal complaint, at least two other misrepresented jerseys are involved in the case.
Witnesses say more than a dozen law enforcement officers, some in uniform, surrounded Jensen’s booth in aisle 500 of the Stephens Convention Center. He was led away in handcuffs in front of stunned onlookers and nearby dealers who were beginning the first full day of sales at the annual event.
Inspector Thomas Boyle of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in New York told Sports Collectors Daily that an investigation has been underway for about a year and stemmed from a complaint by a collector.
The criminal complaint, however, indicates that the fraudulent activity being investigated may date back to July 2007, when the jersey was first marketed by Jensen’s company.
According to the criminal complaint obtained by Sports Collectors Daily, the victim in the case purchased a Seattle Mariners jersey that Vintage Authentics claimed was worn by Rodriguez in the 1995 season. The price paid at the July 2007 auction was $3015. In January of 2010, the collector attempted to have Rodriguez autograph the jersey at a later date, but was told by a representative of the player than he needed authentication before Rodriguez would sign it. An unidentified on-site authenticator quickly concluded it likely wasn’t real.
During the spring of last year, the collector said Jensen told him he would auction the jersey a second time, offering him $3000 if the jersey brought $2500 or more. The collector asked for a refund instead, but according to the complaint, the jersey went back on the market. It brought a winning bid of $1220.80 in July of last year. The jersey was then returned to the collector in August.
The collector then contacted the Mariners’ former equipment manager who told him there were inconsistencies with the nameplate and the rest of the jersey fabric and that only two home jerseys had been issued that year for Rodriguez. At that point, the collector contacted an attorney.
The complaint states that Vintage Authentics agreed to a $1,000 refund, offering to auction the jersey a third time and paying him the balance at the conclusion. The attorney then returned it to Jensen, but not before the collector filed a complaint with postal inspectors. An agent then used invisible ink to mark the jersey and worked undercover, purchasing the jersey from Vintage Authentics at an auction earlier this year for $1443.97 including a buyer’s premium.
“It was clear he knew what he was selling wasn’t genuine,” Boyle said of Jensen.
The inspector instructed Vintage Authentics to ship the jersey to a special address where it was opened by investigators who saw their special markings under a black light.
The Rodriguez jersey isn’t the only one investigators are using as evidence in their case against Jensen, however.
In December of last year, an agent purchased an Oakland Athletics road jersey Vintage Authentics represented as having been worn by Mark McGwire in 1997. It was purchased by inspector Christopher Cizin, using a pseudonym, for $591.90. The jersey was delivered to the address provided by Cizin just before Christmas. During spring training, another investigator interviewed McGwire about the jersey and also showed him a 1998 “All-Star Home Run Derby” jersey being sold by Jensen’s company. McGwire told the investigator he owned his jersey from the Derby and that either he or the Athletics owned his ’97 road jerseys and thus, both were not genuinely game worn.
An A’s equipment manager confirmed the A’s jersey wasn’t game worn and had fabric inconsistencies.
When the information from McGwire and the former equipment man was relayed to Jensen, investigators say he again offered to re-auction the jersey and even provide the unhappy “collector”, with any profit that might come from a resale. Again working under assumed names and addresses, Investigators returned the jersey in June and it appeared last month in the Vintage Authentics catalog.
During the McGwire investigation, agents also asked Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols about a gray road jersey Vintage Authentics was offering as having been worn by him during the 2002 season. Pujols said he still owned both jerseys from that year.
Last month, Vintage Authentics offered yet another ‘game worn’ 2002 Pujols jersey in its auction…one investigators have thus concluded is also likely a fake.
Jensen appeared before a U.S. magistrate Thursday afternoon and according to the New York Daily News, was released on a $50,000 recognizance bond while awaiting an arraignment in a Manhattan courtroom next week. He was seen at a nearby hotel later in the day.
Boyle said agents were also executing a search warrant on Jensen’s warehouse in Plymouth, Minn. Thursday.
“Today, the National Sports Collectors Convention supported the efforts of the US Postal authorities who removed one exhibitor from the Donald E Stephens Convention Center,” read a statement on the NSCC Facebook page. “The National continues to cooperate with any and all national / local authorities when it comes to protecting the integrity of the sports and entertainment collectibles industry.”
Boyle said mail fraud complaints from all areas of collectibles have been on the rise, including the sports memorabilia market.
Vintage Authentics’ website was offline as of Thursday night.
Boyle says they are asking collectors who may have had dealings with Jensen over game worn jerseys or may have information that may help the investigation, to contact them at (212) 330-3397.
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