PART TWO IN A SERIES
Operation Bullpen, the new book set for release next month, details how the Marino family’s autograph forgery ring became like a smooth-running assembly line, cranking out bogus goods by the basket full. The kingpin of the Sharpie was Greg Marino who claims he forged one million items before the law finally caught up to the scam.
This is a another heretofore unreleased excerpt from the book by Kevin Nelson. Operation Bullpen details the forgery ring cracked by the FBI in the late 1990s, one which pumped thousands of fake signatures into the sports memorabilia market.
“Master forger” Greg Marino became so adept at faking the signatures of famous people, especially Mickey Mantle, he could do it from home while his wife Kathy kept the unsigned items handy and waiting her husband’s handiwork.
“He (Greg Marino) could glance at an exemplar in one of the black books and his hand could immediately produce a high quality replica of the signature he was looking at. “I got into a flow,” he said. “I could look at an autograph and I could do it exact. I mean, I did a million autographs. And when I say a million, I mean a million. Not tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. A million.”
(Marino apparently began forging in 1994, and the Operation Bullpen arrests came in the fall of 1999. If Marino’s claim is correct, he would have signed approximately 3846 signatures a week or 549 a day, a feat easily accomplished considering the incentive of obscene amounts of money he was being paid by those who sold the forgeries.)
Nelson continues in Operation Bullpen:
“On some orders all she (Kathy Marino) had to do was unpack the balls and put them in a basket next to the living room couch so that Greg could sign while watching the Yankees game. This was the way he prferred to sign balls because he could use a couch cushion to prop up his arm and avoid writer’s cramp. When a basket was filled with signed balls, Kathy cleared it away and replaced it with a fresh basket of unsigned ones, delivering a snack tray and drink for Greg at the same time. During a nine-inning game, he could polish off three cases or nearly 400 balls.”
“Signing bats represented a separate challenge. Like balls, they are awkward to hold and the writing surface is unusual. In the early 90s, as part of an autograph deal, a videotape was made of Joe DiMaggio actually signing bats at the Louisville Slugger factory. Greg got ahold of this tape and watched it with a close eye, observing how the great DiMaggio’s techniques differed from his. In fact, they were very similar. The bats were lined up for Joe much the same way Kathy lined them up across the living room sofa and chairs–all in a row ans slightly lower down “so Joe could come right down and sign, sign, sign,” said Greg admiringly.
“Once space was cleared in the living room, John (Marino, Greg’s brother) moved the next order of blanks in from the garage. Cold blank memorabilia waiting to be turned into warm lovely cash often filled up the garage with no room to park a vehicle.”