Three sports memorabilia dealers pleaded guilty Monday in Federal Court to separate but related fraud schemes involving counterfeit game worn jerseys.
Bernard Gernay, 37, a resident of Howell, N.J., involved in the business operations of Pro Sports Investments, Inc., a New Jersey business;
Bradley Horne, 39, a Sunset, S.C. resident, involved in the business operations of Authentic Sports Memorabilia, Inc., a South Carolina business; and,
Jarrod Oldridge, 37, a resident of Las Vegas, involved in business operations of JO Sports, Inc., a Nevada business that currently has a contract with several NFL teams for selling game worn jerseys.
According to the plea agreements, each case involved the sale, consignment, or auction of jerseys, in which each defendant falsely and fraudulently represented to buyers that the jerseys were “game used,” when they were not.
The three admitted they were involved in the purchase of "hundreds" of jerseys they intended to sell as game worn.
The fraud charges also involved the defendants selling what were represented to be game used jerseys to other persons knowing the jerseys were intended to then be sold to sports trading card companies. As stated in the charges, to increase the value and price of packages of sports trading cards, manufacturers frequently purchase game used jerseys, cut the jerseys into small pieces, and insert the pieces into card packages. When game used jerseys were purchased for this purpose, the manufacturers often required that the seller provide a "certificate of authenticity" that the jerseys were authentic game used jerseys.
Gernay, Horne and Oldridge each admitted the jerseys they sold were altered to appear game worn, such as replacing the name and number on a jersey from one player to another more noteworthy player, changing the shape of the jerseys, and adding patches or other identifiable marks on the jerseys. Even though jerseys were not game used, the three men sold the jerseys to other persons they knew intended to re-sell, consign, and auction the jerseys, or to sports trading card companies and others, by falsely representing the jerseys were game used.
The plea agreements, linked below, indicate that the government may offer lighter sentences in exchange for testimony against others in an ongoing investigation of the sports memorabilia industry.
Each mail fraud charge in these cases carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 maximum fine, or an alternate fine totaling twice the loss or twice the gain, whichever is greater. Sentencing for all three defendants has been scheduled for May 4, 2012.
Three other men were also charged last month in connection with selling fake jerseys. All three are mentioned in the plea agreements.
Charged by indictment with mail fraud after evidence was presented to a grand jury were Eric Inselberg, a New Jersey resident involved in the business operations of Taylor Huff, Inc. and Pasadena Trading Corp, from late 2001 through late 2009 and Florida resident Brad Wells, involved in the business of Authentic Sports, Inc., and Historic Auctions, LLC, from late 2005 through the middle of 2009. In addition to Oldridge, Horne and Gernay, Wisconsin resident Mitchell Schumacher was also charged by information with mail fraud. No plea deal involving Schumacher was announced. He pled guilty to frauds and swindles as part of Operation Foul Ball in 2000, received three years probation and was fined $30,000.
At this year's National Sports Collectors Convention, Minnesota dealer Steve Jensen was arrested by postal inspectors and charged with mail and wire fraud in connection with the sale of what the government says were bogus jerseys sold as game worn. His case is still pending, according to government attorneys contacted Monday by Sports Collectors Daily. Jensen's company, Vintage Authentics, continues to conduct business and is currently running an auction.
The three guilty pleas were announced by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert Grant, Special Agent-In-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.