The man accused of leading a sports autograph fraud ring has given up his right to a trial and pleaded guilty to charges that could result in a sentence of three to seven years.
Clifton Panezich, 30, appeared before a judge in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday. According to local media reports, he pleaded guilty to aggravated theft, identity fraud, telecommunications fraud, money laundering, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and three counts of forgery with a forfeiture specification.
He had been scheduled to go on trial January 3 for leading a group of Ohio residents in one of the largest cases of fraud in eBay history. Prosecutors say hundreds of victims bought fake autographs, complete with phony certificates of authenticty on eBay between 2010 and 2015. Several other people, including Panezich’s mother, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the case. In September, Panezich had rejected a plea deal and was then indicted by a grand jury.
Panezich, a former college and semi-pro baseball player, will be allowed to travel to Nevada where he has been living to take care of his personal affairs before he returns to Ohio for sentencing. How much time he gets behind bars will be determined by a judge, likely sometime early next year.
“If you don’t show up, any plea agreements are out the window,” Judge Maureen A. Sweeney told Panezich.
In a story that aired on their Tuesday night newscast, WKBN-TV reported that Mahoning County Prosecutor Martin Desmond lashed out at Panezich over a request to erase a recent parole violation levied against his mother.
On Wednesday, WKBN reported Panezich’s mother was released from jail and remains on probation.