The Autograph Blog - This and That About Autographs

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Real Sports Show on HBO about autographs

Real Sports, an HBO series, did the autograph hobby a service in a show which was first aired on Tuesday Jan 17. It has been aired again, and is scheduled to be aired several more times on an HBO channel over the next few days. The show did an investigative report on authenticators, COA's and Legendary Cuts Upper Deck signature cards.At the insistent urging of Shelly Jaffe, several months ago Real Sports began an investigation into the autograph business. (Shelly Jaffe is the person referred to as "Eddy" in the show.) Shelly Jaffe had felt that collectors and autograph buyers were still getting ripped off for huge dollar amounts, especially on the Internet, and it was time for him to try to do something about it. Mr Jaffe was not paid by HBO and did not profit at all from the work he did. He wound up doing some very good work.Real Sports then started to conduct an investigation into the autograph market and its current state. The show initially conducted an interview with an enthusiastic collector who made most of his purchases on the internet and on ebay. This collector enjoyed involving his children in the hobby with him and had a number of signed framed items in his home. He seemingly did not have the awareness of some of the pitfalls in the autograph market.Real Sports then interviewed FBI agent Tim Fitzsimmons who has been the point man for the Federal Government and investigations into the autograph hobby. Tim headed the famous Operation Bullpen, which resulted in numerous arrests and convictions and the disbanding of the largest forgery ring in the country. Tim was interviewed in the FBI warehouse, where many of the forgeries that were confiscated are still kept. He showed the Real Sports reporter a large group of Babe Ruth cut signatures, all of which were forgeries, and he showed the reporter a large box of COA's which came from forensic authenticator Donald Frangipani. FBI undercover tapes revealed members of the forgery ring discussing sending their items to Donald Frangipani to receive COA's for them.Real Sports then interviewed Dan Marino and had him look at some of his own "autographs" on ebay. He looked at a few items and deemed them to be bogus.The show then began to investigate COA's. In order for the show to give collectors an idea of what can happen with COA's, the FBI allowed Real Sports to use forged items for their investigative report. In the next segment of the show, an associate of the show with a hidden camera, personally went to Donald Frangipani's office with seven items that were given to the show by the FBI and which came from the warehouse where the forgeries are kept. Mr. Frangipani, who is a "certified forensic examiner," declared that the seven signatures on these seven forged items were genuine. He then went further and warned about the dubious nature of the autograph market. Real Sports then appeared at Mr. Frangipani's office the next day to tell him that all the seven items he had issued COA's for were bogus according to the FBI. The Real Sports reporter questioned Mr. Frangipani quite intensely and Mr. Frangipani stated that he had made honest mistakes and was only giving his opinion. He was pressed by the reporter on why he never questioned getting so many autographs allegedly from the old great HOFers.Real Sports then continued their investigation of authenticators by sending out multiple items to various authenticators. Four authentication services received 20 bogus items. According to Real Sports, COA's were issued for 15 of those 20 bogus items. These services included Christopher Morales (a forensic examiner who is an associate of Mr Frangipani), AAU (a forensic examination company in Las Vegas), Frank Garo and Stat (a very new company which includes Ted Taylor). Two other authenticators, Global Authentication and I received a number of items from the show and to quote Real Sports "these two authenticators stated that virtually every item they received was bogus". We were commended by the show for our accurate work.Real Sports then went back to "Eddy" who gave further details of the operations of the forgery ring. He stated that it was "forensic experts" who helped the ring to succeed. He would send items to Mr Frangipani and they all came back to him as authentic with COA's.Real Sports quoted Tim Fitzsimmons that Donald Frangipani was the "authenticator of choice" for the ring. But the show also made it clear that Mr. Frangipani had never been charged by the federal government.Real Sports asked ebay to comment but they declined. However, they did point out that they are teamed with PSA-DNA authentication services, and make that service available for a nominal fee to buyers on ebay.Real Sports continued their investigative report into the autograph hobby by focusing on an Upper Deck 2005 SP Legendary Cuts Autograph Quad Cuts card. This card had four cut signatures on it. The signatures on this card were purportedly of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb.For those of you not familiar with these cards, they are insert cards with the signature of a well known athlete affixed to the card. They have been selling for considerably more than the autograph itself would have ordinarily sold for.This particular card was auctioned by Beckett on Ebay after receiving a lot of publicity. The card sold for $85,000. The four cut autographs if legitimate would have sold for $4000-5000."Eddy" stated that the Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson signatures were products of the forger Greg Marino, who was the leader of the forgery ring. The signatures were sent, by scan, to me, Global Authentication and PSA-DNA Quick Opinion service. We did not know that the signatures were from an Upper Deck card. Global and I said the signatures did not appear authentic to us. PSA stated that the signatures were "likely not genuine". Upper Deck, referred to as the "gold standard" in the industry, made a statement that they stand by their product. I would think that we will be hearing more about this card.
Show is scheduled on HBO (main channel) at: 1/21 10:00 AM1/23 11:30 AM, 9:00 PM1/25 4:30 PM, 11:55 PM1/29 9:00 AM1/31 7:00 PM& other times on the additional HBO channels.