Among sports memorabilia collectors, the holiest of holies are game-used items. Anyone can buy an autographed jersey, but a helmet used in a Super Bowl? That's a highly limited market.
But as with all memorabilia, collectors of game-used gear have to put their faith in the system, faith that the dings and scratches and dirt on uniforms and helmets actually came from an actual game and not from, say, a practice field ... or a dry-cleaner. Now, a collector is charging that Eli Manning and the Giants falsified claims of "game-used" memorabilia, and one of those forgeries is allegedly in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sports collector Eric Inselberg filed a suit in Bergen County on Wednesday charging civil racketeering, breach of contract, malicious prosecution, and trade libel against Manning, the Giants, and several other parties. The New York Post first reported the lawsuit.
"This suit is completely without any merit whatsoever and we will defend it vigorously," a Giants spokesperson told NJ.com. "We will not otherwise comment on pending litigation."
Inselberg had been indicted in 2011 on charges of selling forged memorabilia. But that suit was dropped when federal prosecutors told the judge that “prosecution was no longer appropriate in light of some new facts that were pointed out to us by defense counsel.” Inselberg's defense lawyers had told the court that Giants personnel had lied to a grand jury about the team's relationship with Inselberg in order to cover up the Giants' own forgeries, according to the Post.
Inselberg said he bought thousands of items from Giants staffers over the course of two decades, and Inselberg's memorabilia served as the centerpiece of the Giants' "Legacy Club," an exhibition of memorabilia at MetLife Stadium. But when federal investigators began looking into allegations of forged memorabilia within the Giants organization, the team turned on Inselberg, the suit charges.
“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 the suit.
Among the charges in the suit:
• Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba allegedly participated in a scheme to forge game-used memorabilia and then turn it over to Inselberg, as Manning allegedly did not wish to surrender his memorabilia. One email exchange between Inselberg and Skiba, noted in the lawsuit, ran as follows:
Inselberg: "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 didn't want to give up the real stuff?"
Skiba, from a Giants email address: "BS ones, you are correct..."
• According to the suit, in 2005 Manning asked Skiba for an old practice helmet, then signed it and put it on the market as if it were from his 2004 rookie season.
• The suit also alleges that in 2008, Skiba doctored a helmet to make it appear it had been used in that year's Super Bowl. The helmet went first to a Giants vice president and later to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, the suit charges.
• The Giants' dry-cleaner allegedly cut up, laundered, and "repaired" unused game jerseys to make them appear game-used.
• Several collectors who bought fake memorabilia noticed that the markings on their gear appeared to be different from that on the "same" gear in game photos.
Inselberg did not list a dollar figure for damages, but his attorneys said that the Giants' actions had cost him "well into the eight figures," according to the Post.
Peyton Manning was asked on Thursday if he had a comment on the lawsuit targeting his brother.
His one-word answer: "No."