The New York Giants, co-owner John Mara, quarterback Eli Manning, equipment manager Joe Skiba and several other members of the organization may soon find themselves in hot water as a recent lawsuit, shared on Thursday by the New York Post, alleges that they have been creating and distributing fake memorabilia for many years. In fact, the lawsuit goes as far as to list a piece currently sitting in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a forgery.
Other alleged forgeries include "game-worn" Eli Manning jersey's, multiple "game-worn" helmets from Super Bowl XLVI and a "game-worn" Manning helmet from 2004, his rookie season. Some of these items have even allegedly been sold to collectors, with a Certificate of Authenticity, via memorabilia auction house Steiner Sports, with whom Eli has an exclusive contract.
The lawsuit also alleges that Manning willingly took part in these forgeries and distribution as a way to "hang on to his personal items."
The lawsuit continues that it has become the norm within the Giants organization to create and distribute fake memorabilia — so much so that it was even openly discussed (allegedly) by equipment manager Joe Skiba using the team's official e-mail address.
“Hey Joe, my buddy was offered an eli game used helmet and jersey. Are these the bs ones eli asked you to make up because he didnt want to give up the real stuff?” Inselberg writes in the exchange.
Skiba — replying from account “firstname.lastname@example.org” — writes, “BS ones, you are correct…”
Some of the claims date back to long before Manning was even a thought in the Giants' mind, including one from 2001 in which locker-room manager Ed Wagner Jr. told Barry Barone, the Giants' dry cleaner since 1982, “to intentionally damage multiple jerseys to make them appear to have been game-worn when they had not been.”
All of the allegations are just a small portion of a civil-racketeering, breach-of-contract, malicious-prosecution and trade-libel lawsuit filed Wednesday in Bergen County Superior Court by sports collector Eric Inselberg, who was indicted in 2011 for memorabilia fraud after being caught selling fake memorabilia. However, the case against Inselberg was dropped in May of 2013 after a judge noted “prosecution was no longer appropriate in light of some new facts that were pointed out to us by defense counsel.”
Inselberg's lawyer says the case was dropped after the court was informed that Giants' staffers had lied to the Grand Jury in an effort to conceal their allegedly fake memorabilia empire and to cover-up their relationship to Inselberg.
The lawsuit further alleges that Wagner, Barone, the Skiba's and others were told by "Giants brass" to outright lie to federal prosecutors about how much memorabilia and merchandise they have sold over the years. It also states that Manning was well aware the helmets being sold through Steiner were fake, but he informed the company that they were, in fact, real. All helmets, some of which were returned by angry fans who insisted they were not authentic, were eventually resold to other fans and collectors.
Interestingly, Inselberg also claims in the lawsuit that Giants co-owner John Mara named him “Giants Memorabilia Curator" after he helped to launch the Legacy Club, which is a popular attraction in MetLife Stadium.
The big line of the lawsuit comes when Inselberg claims to have witnessed this fake memorabilia creation at the hands of Skiba, and was then informed by Skiba that the team “created fraudulent memorabilia at the direction of the Giants’ management and players.”
“When the Government came knocking on the Giants’ door, the response was a coverup that threw Inselberg under the bus to protect themselves and the team,” according to court papers.
Ultimately, if this lawsuit and the subsequent allegation prove to be true, this become a major federal case and carries with it major prison sentences.
When asked about the suit on Thursday morning, Giants co-owner Jonathan Tisch said it had "no merit" but declined to comment further.
Meanwhile, the Giants have released the following official statement:
"This suit is completely without any merit whatsoever and we will defend it vigorously. We will not otherwise comment on pending litigation."
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