The U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case of a Minnesota sports memorabilia dealer says the investigation into the activities of Vintage Authentics is ongoing.
Preet Bharara praised postal inspectors for their work in the case, which culminated in the arrest of Steven Jensen on the floor of the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago last week. The presence of an Associated Press crew ensured the arrest would garner significant publicity and, no doubt, serve as a warning shot to dealers in an industry that’s been under the microscope of federal law enforcement officials for several years.
Jensen, 40, of Osseo, Minn., has been charged with mail fraud and wire fraud over what federal authorities say were jerseys falsely described as game worn. He appeared before a Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois last Thursday, just hours after postal inspectors and local law enforcement arrested him at his booth. Each charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
“”Most people see baseball as America’s pastime, but Steven Jensen saw only dollar sign,” said Bharara. “He allegedly took advantage of dedicated fans and sports enthusiasts around the country, trading on the success of some of baseball’s biggest names to make a quick buck for himself.”
According to the Complaint, between July 2007 and July 2011, Jensen and Vintage Authentics auctioned off jerseys that were purportedly worn by Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, and Albert Pujols. However, postal inspectors claimed Jensen knew the jerseys he sold were not genuine . Furthermore, after customers independently determined that the jerseys were fake, returned them and requested refunds, authorities say Jensen re-auctioned the same jerseys, again misrepresenting that the items were genuine and authentic sports memorabilia.
In July 2007, one customer from the Bronx,New York, paid more than $3,000 to buy a Seattle Mariners home jersey advertised by Vintage Authentics as having been worn by Alex Rodriguez during the 1995 season. The customer later learned that the Rodriguez jersey was a fake. As alleged in the Complaint, the customer had the jersey examined by the Mariners’ equipment manager and by a professional authenticator of sports memorabilia, both of whom concluded that the jersey was not authentic.
The conclusion was reached for a number of reasons, including that (a) the Mariners kept all of the home jerseys issued to players in 1995, and (b) the fabric ofthe “Rodriguez” nameplate on the back was different than that used for the rest of the jersey. After the customer informed Jensen that the jersey was fake, returned it, and sought a refund, Jensen allegedly offered the jersey in another online auction in February 2011, falsely representing that it was authentic.
In December 2010, a postal inspector acting in an undercover capacity says he paid $477 to purchase an Oakland Athletics jersey that was marketed as having been worn by Mark McGwire during the 1997 season. Through subsequent interviews with Mark McGwire and the Oakland Athletics equipment and clubhouse manager, who has served in that capacity since 1974, law enforcement concluded that the McGwire jersey was a fake. During McGwire’s interview, the inspector also showed McGwire a list of other memorabilia offered in a Vintage Authentics auction, including a Home Run Derby jersey purportedly worn by him during the 1999 All Star Game weekend.
McGwire stated that he still possessed the only Home Run Derby jersey issued to him in 1999. After the Postal Inspector informed Jensen that the jersey was fake, returned it, and demanded a refund, the dealer is accused of offering the same jersey at auction in July 2011, again falsely representing that it was authentic.
In February of this year, a Vintage Authentics online auction included a St. Louis Cardinals away jersey that, according to the auction website, was worn by Albert Pujols during the 2002 season. Postal inspectors interviewed Pujols, who said that he still possessed the only two Cardinals away jerseys issued to him for the 2002 season.
“Americans have always had a love affair with baseball,” said New York USPIS Inspector-in-Charge Ronald Verrochio. “By purchasing these jerseys, the victims felt that had a piece of history only to be defrauded and left with a feeling of heartbreak. Postal Inspectors will continue to identify fraudulent transactions so to preserve the dream and to protect further victimization of those who pursue a piece of history.”
Postal inspector Thomas Boyle told Sports Collectors Daily last week that while Jensen was being arrested, investigators were searching his warehouse in Plymouth, Minn.
To see all of our stories from the National Sports Collectors Convention, click here.