Giants, collectors make their cases in memorabilia fraud lawsuit

ByDarren Rovell and Jordan Raanan ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lawyers for the New York Giants and for the collectors suing the team, quarterback Eli Manning and others for alleged memorabilia fraud traded barbs in court filings this week.

The collectors' lawyers continued to assert their claims that Manning, the Giants, their equipment director and Steiner Sports were complicit in memorabilia fraud. The Giants' attorneys, in their most extensive filing to date, maintained that those suing them have yet to prove they've done anything wrong.

The Giants are hoping to convince the New Jersey Superior Court judge to issue a summary judgment and avoid a civil trial. The plaintiffs, meanwhile, are hoping to prove they have enough evidence to proceed to trial, scheduled to begin in less than six weeks.

Along with producing transcripts of their depositions Monday, the plaintiffs introduced the findings of John Robinson of Resolution Photo-Matching. Robinson, an expert witness for the plaintiffs, said that photos of four out of five helmets didn't match what was sold as game-used Eli Manning pieces, and that Manning likely never used them in a game.

The plaintiffs are three Giants collectors, including Eric Inselberg, who says he bought thousands of pieces of memorabilia from the Giants' equipment managers. They allege that the Giants and equipment director Joe Skiba were complicit in the manufacturing of fake memorabilia and showed negligence.

As evidence, they presented the deposition of Skiba, who said he was asked by Giants media relations director Pat Hanlon "to put together a game-issued Eli Manning Super Bowl helmet" for an exhibit, which Skiba said he provided. The request was made in the spring of 2008, months after the Giants' Super Bowl XLII victory. The Super Bowl helmet, which the Giants represented as the genuine article, wound up in the Hall of Fame. In recent months, the Hall of Fame's website page that featured a description of the helmet was deleted.

The plaintiffs' attorneys also introduced the deposition of Giants president and CEO John Mara, taken in December, in which Mara said he wasn't aware that there was any memorabilia controversy until the lawsuit was filed, even though the plaintiffs show that the Giants' in-house counsel Bill Heller received a letter on the topic as early as 2011.

Attorneys from McCarter & English -- representing the Giants, Mara and Heller -- said in a rebuttal filed to the court Tuesday that these details weren't relevant, because the collectors have not presented any evidence the Giants sold anything fake since 2011.

"Plaintiffs have put forward no evidence supporting the proposition that engaging in memorabilia fraud is the kind of task that any Giants employee was ever employed or otherwise authorized to perform," the attorneys argue in the filing.

The helmet that wound up in the Hall of Fame was never sold, and any memorabilia the Giants sold would not have been a profit engine, as any proceeds went to the team's charity.

Inselberg, who was involved with a helmet patent venture with Skiba and believes he is owed a commission from the Giants' sponsorship deal with JP Morgan Chase, connects Skiba and the Giants to Manning and memorabilia company Steiner Sports through an email in which he asks Skiba if game-used memorabilia being sold by Steiner are the genuine articles. Skiba responded that they are "the BS ones," a phrase the Giants' attorneys say does not prove any fraud.

The Giants are not representing Skiba -- Mara said in his deposition that he considered what Skiba did stealing from the team -- nor are they representing Manning and Steiner, who were involved in a deal in which Manning gave his game-used memorabilia to the company as part of his contract. Manning and Steiner have maintained that they did not knowingly present fabricated memorabilia as game-used.

"After over a year of discovery, and hiring their own expert, the Giants still haven't shown that Eli Manning gave a single real helmet to Steiner Sports," Brian C. Brook of Clinton Brook and Peed, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told ESPN.

Brook said Steiner Sports has another helmet, sold as a 2010 game-used helmet worn by Manning, that a customer returned in May of last year. Brook alleges the company has concealed the helmet from discovery. Last month, Brook filed a motion to compel Steiner to share information on the returned helmet.

Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports said he has no comment. Steiner insisted in his deposition, taken in September and released Monday, that he stands by Manning because of what he knows of him as a person.

"There are some people who you trust emphatically and Eli is one of them," Steiner said in his deposition.

Much of Manning's testimony was redacted from public consumption. Any correspondence with or questions about the NFL's involvement in the case were also redacted in the depositions.

When Inselberg saw the Giants display a Manning Super Bowl XLII helmet, he asked the team to write him a note saying that his was the real one. They declined.

Inselberg also bought a helmet from Steiner that was said to have been used by Manning during the 2011 season, which culminated in another Super Bowl title. Robinson found that the helmet didn't match the photos from any game that season.

The Giants' expert witness for memorabilia is Troy Kinunen, who in his deposition said that relying solely on photomatching to assess a jersey's or helmet's authenticity is faulty.