HBO Report Critical of Autograph Authenticators

From the January 19th edition of eSCD...

At least my good pal Richard Simon was one of the authenticators identified as getting it right...


HBO's Real Sports documentary series took a look at the sports autograph industry Tuesday night, with a specific focus on autograph authenticators and questioned their ability to spot fake merchandise.

Reporter Armen Keteyian began the story by claiming that as much as half the signed memorabilia being sold online today is fake, and outlined how the FBI's Operation Bullpen program has helped arrest and convict forgers and distributors of more than a million items of fake memorabilia. One of those convicted, Sheldon Jaffe, who was identified on the program only as "Eddie," said one of the reasons forgery rings like the extensive operation headed by the Greg Marino family were able to move their merchandise so easily were certificates of authenticity that were signed by third-party authenticators.

"This was a scam like no other," Jaffe said in regards to the concept of COAs. "The only reason the forgery ring worked was we were able to find 'forensic experts.'"

Donald Frangipanni was spotlighted as the "authenticator of choice" for the forgers. Jaffe acknowledged that if they had a fake document and wanted someone to approve it, it would be directed to Frangipani. An HBO staffer with a hidden camera then took seven items with signatures from athletes such as Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Brett Favre to Frangipani's office for authentication. He approved all of the items. When confronted by HBO, Frangipani said he was simply fooled by the forgeries. "I gave my opinion on these items," he said. "If I made errors, I admit to my errors."

HBO sent the same items to six other authenticators. The report stated that four of the six "failed miserably," authenticating 15 of the 20 fake items as being real. None of those four authenticators were identified. The network said two unnamed authenticators -- those identified by logos as Richard Simon and Global Authentication -- rejected virtually all of items as fakes.

Also featured on the show was last month's $85,000 eBay sale of an Upper Deck quad-signature card featuring Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner. Jaffe claimed the Ruth and Johnson cut signatures used on the card were Marino forgeries. HBO sent images of the card to the authenticators that passed its test, as well as PSA/DNA. Both reportedly said the two signatures were likely not real. Upper Deck told HBO it stood by all of its products and said it questioned the findings of authenticators who did not examine the actual card.

After the report, Bryant Gumbel asked Keteyian if the industry was trying to standardize the guidelines of COAs. "Not everybody who gives out a COA is corrupt, but in an industry that generates billions of dollars, you would think there would be more scrutiny to these COAs and there's not," Keteyian said. "If you're at home buying one of these things on the Internet and you're not checking out where these signature and these authenticators are coming from, you're really in a buyer-beware kind of situation."