FBI Sends Message with Dealer Arrest at the National
As you've likely heard, excitement at the National Sports Collectors Convention was not limited to the 350,000+ square feet of sports memorabilia for sale, or the chance to receive autographs from dozens of the most recognizable athletes (Reggie Jackson, Joe Montana, Bo Jackson, Jim Brown, Roger Staubach, etc.). No, Federal agents decided to make things more exciting by publicly arresting one of the vendors for allegedly selling fraudulent game-used merchandise.
On the opening day of the convention, U.S. Postal Inspectors arrested Steven Jensen, CEO of Vintage Sports Authentics. He is charged with one count of mail fraud (attempting to unlawfully obtain money or valuables through the postal system) and one count of wire fraud (criminally fraudulent activity utilizing electronic communications). Allegedly, Vintage Sports was contacted by customers through the phone system and/or Internet, sold those customers fraudulent Albert Pujols, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez game used jerseys and then sent the jerseys to the customers through the mail.
An arrest like this at the National, especially because it appears no goods were confiscated from Vintage Sports Authentics' booth and the sales occurred prior to the convention, was meant to send a message—the U.S. Government is monitoring the sports memorabilia industry. This is good news for consumers, given the high degree of fraud in the industry.
Those who frequent the National will recognize that this wasn't the government's first year of “participation." The Fed has been a consistent attendee in the recent past, including 2008, when the FBI served grand jury subpoenas on a number of vendors.
The government's involvement with the National and the sports memorabilia industry stems from a number of recent FBI operations, starting in the late 1990s with Operation Foul Ball and in the 2000s with Operation Bullpen. It was these forays into the sports memorabilia world that generated the often recited statistics that between 50 to 90 percent of all autographed or game used merchandise on the market may be fraudulent.
Hopefully, the government's consistent attendance will keep disreputable vendors in line and limit the amount of fraudulent memorabilia on the market.