The Florida man who sold a bucket full of phony Babe Ruth autographed baseballs across the state of Florida will spend four years in prison.
Marc A. Szakaly, 40, of Land O'Lakes, pleaded guilty to organized fraud without a plea bargain according to news reports. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley told the court that the sentence was warranted because it was clearly an organized plan to defraud businesses. Szakaly also repaid the money he was handed for selling or pawning the baseballs, which came with faked PSA DNA letters of authenticity.
Amazingly, Szakaly was able to pull the stunt 35 times around the state during a 13-month period, many occurring even after shop owners realized they'd been the victim of a crime.
Largo, Fla., police began the investigation, which was then turned over to the state attorney general's office as the string of incidents was pieced together.
Investigators eventually figured out that Szakaly would take one of the artificially aged baseballs with a fake signature into a shop and tell clerks he had a family emergency and that he needed to sell the ball quickly. The shops usually paid $1,000 to $1,500 for the baseballs largely because of what appeared to be a COA. Believing they had a real signed Ruth ball they could sell for a strong profit, the shops realized one by one that the document wasn't real.
Investigators say Szakaly's use of baseballs made by manufacturers who didn't start producing them until after Ruth's death also helped them determine the autographs couldn't be real.
This was not Szakaly's first scam. In 2002, the Indiana native was charged with switching two fake diamond for two real ones at a jewelry store near Cincinnati.