Operation Bullpen: The Movie? It could happen. The motion picture rights to the book about the massive forgery ring that plagued the sports memorabilia industry in the 1990’s have been purchased by sports and marketing agent Harlan J. Werner.
Werner, who is a long-time sports memorabilia collector and dealer as well as co-owner of a national chain of retail movie memorabilia stores, made the acquisition along with film and television producer Art Horan.
“This story is a cross between ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle,’” said Werner, referring to the Operation Bullpen saga in which a dysfunctional family of con artists, led by a conniving grandma and her pot-smoking son, fooled the FBI for years and ripped off a gullible American public for a cool $100 million. “It’s a great story. It’s very cinematic with broad appeal.”
Operation Bullpen, by award-winning author Kevin Nelson, is widely regarded as the definitive insider’s account of the explosive case that shook up the $1 billion a year memorabilia industry. The forgers and their accomplices were ordinary middle class people who went wild, living the Vegas high life, indulging in sex romps and spending lavishly, all the while churning out hundreds of thousands of fake autographs that were sold on TV, the Internet and in stores across the U.S.
Werner actively participated in the FBI’s undercover investigation of the gang, as did his client Muhammad Ali.
The FBI’s dramatic bust of the gang was the largest one-day takedown in Bureau history. Ironically, Ali, Namath, Koufax, John Riggins and Jim Brown–all clients of Werner’s at his Sports Placement Service firm–had their autographs forged and sold by the Marino family and others involved in the scheme.
In addition to his personal knowledge of the memorabilia and autograph industry, Werner executive produced the movie “Tyson” and consulted on “One Night in Vegas” for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.
Horan, a former Warner Bros. executive, was president of WMG Film Group where he was Executive Producer of “The Usual Suspects,” a two-time Academy Award-winner. Horan recently was Executive Producer of “Ring Girls,” also for ESPN, directed by academy award nominated director Amy Berg and is co- founder of Undisputed Champion Network, a digital channel dedicated to the combat sports.