Operation Bullpen and the Marino Family Forgery Ring: Has anything changed?

Over the past few days I have been re-reading Operation Bullpen, the story of the Marino Family Forgery Ring and how the FBI took them down. The last time I read it was several years ago.

Something that really struck me this time around was how self-conscious the ring was about their product being “high quality” and how nervous they got when “someone was onto them.” For instance, the book recounts an incident where a collector returned a Jackie Robinson signed ball and a Roberto Clemente signed ball because he discovered the date of the ball made it impossible for them to be signed by Robinson or Clemente.

The leader of the ring, Wayne Bray, went into a fury because of this sloppiness and was especially angry at John DiMaggio (J. DiMaggio COAs) for issuing certs for these provably fake items. They counted on DiMaggio to rubber stamp items, but he was also essentially quality control. If something was a poor quality forgery, DiMaggio was not supposed to cert it.

Further, they got really nervous when some of the sellers they distributed to were removed by eBay. Once their sellers started getting removed from eBay, they feared law enforcement would soon follow. (Which it did.)

What makes this so interesting is the contrast with many of the fakes we see today certed by the usual suspects on the eBay banned COA list. The usual suspects on the eBay banned list – as well as some others – cert items that are laughably bad and obvious forgeries. There is no “quality control.” They apparently thumb their noses at law enforcement with no fear of consequences.

Message board threads like this one -- and many others here  -- would have sent Wayne Bray and the Marinos into cardiac arrest. Yet, today’s crop of forgers, sellers and their “authenticating” accomplices don’t seem to care if almost every educated collector and dealer in the world is “onto them.” As long as there is a “greater fool” willing to buy their product, they plow on… offering countless obviously bad items in scores of venues.

So, how is it a decade after the biggest forgery bust in the world, the autographed collectibles market is perhaps flooded with more fakes than ever?

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Tags: Bullpen, Family, Marino, Operation, forgeries, forgery

Comment by DB on June 26, 2012 at 5:09pm

So, how is it a decade after the biggest forgery bust in the world, the autographed collectibles market is perhaps flooded with more fakes than ever?

IMO It's not a primary focus of law enforcement, EBAY (regardless of Trust & Safety) has egg on it's face with the significant errors made by their listed COAs and LOAs from reputable organizations and are way too slow with removing Fakes from EMRs or VEROs as well as thru "normal channels and finally the forgers have learned the legal system and know fully well that the majority of buyers are mostly uninformed.

Comment by Steve Zarelli on June 26, 2012 at 5:15pm

I understand it's not the primary focus of law enforcement, but hopefully they can do more than one thing at a time. If anything, it's a higher dollar fraud area than it was in the 90s.

And to address your second point, buyers were even more uninformed in the 90s than now -- not that it should have any bearing on whether fraud is being perpetrated or not.

Comment by Adam J. Moraine on June 26, 2012 at 5:27pm

I know one thing...............Stan and Donna Fitzgerald of " Stan's Sports Memorabilia" formerally based in Caldwell, NJ can go s*ck it! Does anyone know anything about a "Mark Lassman" of Sportscard Haven formerally based in Sunrise, FL or an Andrew Burrieschi DBA "Andrew Burrieschi Inc." formerally based in FT Lauderdale, FL?

Comment by DB on June 26, 2012 at 5:38pm

ZIp,   buyers are even more uninformed (majority) then they were in the 90s as now they believe if it has a COA it must be authentic.  We see it time and again...  Otherwise, how can coach's corner still be in business?  How did ARA survive only to declare bankruptcy and yet live to see another day?

Then we have AGENDAs or perhaps Crusades of way to many that purely focus on sensationalism.  Rolf called it the stupid american autograph wars and I didn't have the appreciation then that I seem to have now. 

and lastly, unless we are talking "GAZillions" of dollars from a RICO like forgery operation it is going to be minimal even with US Attorney Generals!  These agencies do multitask but don't really care about bad authenticators.  The NY US AG's office has been one of a few bright stars and every now and then we read about a bust but in the scheme of things it is not the equal of Bernie Madoff.

If they did then when did we hear anything further on the alleged Morales involvement FBI Investigation (btw, if you put his name in the AML search there are 97 pages of information) that was noted here several times?  Even though those COAs made EBAY's Banned List but those COAs are all over the place.     

Comment by Christopher Williams on June 26, 2012 at 6:23pm

Excellent blog, Mr. Zipper.

I guess we can speculate why, in my opinion, the infection of forgeries in the hobby is worse than ever.

Look at the absolute crap sold by CSC Collectibles and yet they remain in business.  It's great that Ebay inserted CSC Collectibles on the "Banned COA" list, but as we have seen, CSC Collectibles has discovered other outlets to distribute their crap.  All of their crap has certs by Chris Morales, Ted Taylor (TTA/Stat Authentic and Nicholas Burczyk.   The Morales and Burczyk COAs include the word forensic and that impresses the wannabe autograph collectors.  As for Ted Taylor, I have no idea why anyone would be impressed by his so-called credentials.

How was AlwaysAtAuction able to sell, in my opinion, thousands upon thousands of pieces of crap with certs from Morales, Ted Taylor, Drew Max and Burczyk?

I will always blame the buyers for a big chunk of the problem.  How many hundreds (thousands) of buyers of AlwaysAtAuction crap, immediately tried to flip that junk on Ebay for a huge profit.  That's when Ebay stepped in and inserted Burczyk and Morales on the "Banned COA" list. 

I will always blame the buyers for a big chunk of the problem.

And the sellers of forgeries have no fear of being prosecuted. 

There is a ton more that I want to write here, but I cannot.  Let me just say that some things take a long time to cook.  Look how long Operation Bullpen was active before the closing bust.

Allow me to also add that the majority of people who purchase autographs are wannabe collectors.  They do absolutely no research and are convinced that anything with a piece of paper called a COA, seals the deal for a autograph to be authentic.

Over the years, I have seen hundreds of kitchen-table forgers (they sit at their kitchen table forging autographs on football, baseball, basketball and hockey cards) on Ebay sell thousands of forgeries before they are eventually caught and booted.  These are forgeries that sell for between $2.00 and $10.00 a piece and the typical kitchen-table forger sells between 50 and 200 forgeries a week.  Who buys those forgeries?  Wannabe collectors.

Why does Coach's Corner stay in business?  Buyers.  It has always been my opinion that stores purchase the majority of the crap sold on the Coach's Corner Auction site.  Then those stores sell that crap to wannabe collectors and impulse buyers.  Notice that you hardly ever see that crap listed on Ebay.

I could write 50 pages of comments under this blog, but I will stop here.

It's disgusting what is going on these days in the hobby with the infection of forgeries. 

Comment by DB on June 27, 2012 at 4:00pm

That's pretty close as buyers seem to have a "flea market" mentality. 

Look, what I got for a "bargain" and look what I can sell.   It doesn't have to be authentic, just certified.  Autograph Hell made some great points..

As far as "Let me just say that some things take a long time to cook."  It's why sellers of forgeries have no fear of being prosecuted or lawyers can advise that is "an opinion" only.  Thus unless it's a RICO operation as I previously noted it's caveat emptor.

Comment by Sidney Fields on June 27, 2012 at 10:05pm

As you folks have noted, there's a lot that can be said on this topic.

I'll limit myself to 4 quick points...one for each "actor" in the process.

Law Enforcement:  Going after autograph scammers is a thankless task.  They lack resources and manpower. They lack specialized knowledge of the field. The cases are difficult to prove without spending a lot of time and effort.  In other words, too much buck and not enough bang.

Sellers of fakes:  There's way too much money to be made relative to the risk of getting caught and severely punished. If someone does get caught, he's unlikely to be prosecuted.  If he is prosecuted, he's unlikely to face much punishment.  In other words, the crime pays.

Buyers:  Christopher Williams is exactly right in saying, " They do absolutely no research and are convinced that anything with a piece of paper called a COA, seals the deal for a autograph to be authentic."  In other words, ignorance is bliss.

Celebrities:  They generally don't care.  At least not enough to demand action or even work with any law enforcement people who might actually be interested.  In other words, it's beneath them.

Comment by CEE GEE on June 28, 2012 at 4:48am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HaL4pozTVM

I just did a video recently on this same subject...I was shocked and disgusted to see that there was so many fakes out there still being sold...

Great piece Zipper...it seems to me that because of the mess that Bray and the boys did in such high numbers that the hobby will never be the same...its a real shame how bad it is...I recently purchased a fake Ted Williams ball that was really good...I am certain it was not from the bullpen boys because there Williams autos where horrific at best...and spotted quite easy...the one I purchased was pretty good...I actually as much as I hate to admit it got burned on 2 bad ones before I got a good one...but there all different looking...I also made a video on all 3 and only one is good...check it out guys...its not one of my proudest moments but in my hard lesson learned at least I can further help the next guy trying to purchase something...the link is below...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArkLJxDLoe8

Comment by Christopher Williams on June 28, 2012 at 5:03am

Well written, Mr. Fields.  I used to get ripped for blasting buyers of crap, but buyers are half the problem.

Nice videos, Cee Gee. 

DB, your "flea market" mentality analogy is right on the money. 

Comment by DB on June 28, 2012 at 5:14am

There in lies the many problems but what is the set of solutions;

I know - everyone needs to become educated but just as Cee Gee says, "even I got burned" and many if not all of us have been in that boat & will be again.  A high ranking official from EBAY said to me, "if we shut down every seller who has non-authentic material there would be very few left".

Prosecute more - that ain't gonna happen.   Buy only from "credible" TPAs (and I say credible loosely) but we have also seen them make major errors along with certifying signatures based on non-authentic exemplars.  BroadBrush paint COAs and those who issue them who seemingly get them wrong more than right so collectors stop looking at the signature and simply ignore the COA.  Make all collectors pass 101 educational testing?  - That ain't gonna happen.  Become the Voice for the collector and begin the crusade - has some merit by with SLAPP and Legal Costs it get's expensive and in the larger scheme of things - very few hear about it.

Frankly, I don't see a great solution.  Withthe alleged failings of GAI and GA as has been noted here on several occassions it seems to be getting worse.

One statement that is interesting from the post is; Once their sellers started getting removed from eBay, they feared law enforcement would soon follow. (Which it did.).   Who exactly are we talking about as many times EBAY is given way too much credit?

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