The Ohio man charged with setting up a massive autograph forgery ring online has rejected a plea deal.
According to news reports in Youngstown, Cliff Panezich and his attorney didn’t accept the Mahoning County district attorney’s offer to accept a prison sentence of no more than seven years. Panezich believes he shouldn’t face more than three years but if the case goes to trial and he’s convicted, Panezich could be looking at as much as 11 years.
Several others, including Panezich’s mother, have already pleaded guilty in the case, but prosecutor Marty Desmond’s office says it was Panezich, a former college baseball player, who masterminded the scheme. Investigators say from 2010-2014, the group forged autographs of well-known athletes on a variety of items and sold them on eBay. About 25,000 people were identified as possible victims in the case with proceeds of about $2 million. There were phony certificates of authenticity included with the bogus items.
Panezich has been living in Las Vegas after posting a $100,000 bond last spring but according to WKBN-TV, he was ordered to remain in Ohio until his trial. Gerry Ricciutti, a reporter for the station, was in the courtroom Monday (watch his story below).
Desmond says his office may be seeking fraud, theft and money laundering charges against Panezich when the case is presented to a grand jury.
One other member of the group charged in the case, Jason Moore, has expressed his innocence and also rejected a plea deal in favor of a jury trial.