Eli Manning managed to keep his name from being associated with anything negative or salacious.
Before Thursday, the only time the New York Giants quarterback’s name was linked to anything that would raise eyebrows was a public drunkenness arrest during his freshman year at Ole Miss.
On Thursday, the New York Post reported Manning was knowingly part of a scheme that sold fake game-worn gear to sports memorabilia collectors.
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Manning has a contract with memorabilia dealer Steiner Sports. The two-time Super Bowl MVP allegedly instructed Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba to get helmets that were not game worn but looked like they could be sold as such.
According to court documents, Manning sent Skiba an e-mail via BlackBerry, “2 helmets that can pass as game used. That is it. Eli” on April 27, 2010.
20 minutes later, Manning sent an e-mail to marketing agent Alan Zucker, who requested the helmets, “Should be able to get them for tomorrow.”
The e-mails were filed in Bergen County (New Jersey) Superior Court as part of a civil racketeering lawsuit.
The lead plaintiff is Michael Jakab of Floral Park, New York. Jakab alleges he paid $4,300 for a game worn Manning helmet from the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl season. The helmet was purchased in December 2013.
Jakab grew suspicious when he couldn’t “photomatch” the helmet with any pictures of Manning over several seasons. He said the helmet was missing “the swatches of Velcro that are supposed to be next to the earholes on all quarterback helmets to hold radio receivers so quarterback can hear their coaches”.
“I knew something was wrong when it didn’t have the Velcro inside,” Jakab said in a January 2014 interview with the Post. “Also, the number of marks on it, there are a lot, just too many scratches. I tried to match it to three seasons worth of photos and I went through every one. I couldn’t match it to one of them.”
Jakab’s suit was filed by attorney Brian Brook. Brook filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of collector Eric Inselberg. Inselberg accused the Giants and Steiner Sports of knowingly selling dozens of fake items—including a Manning helmet on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Inselberg was among six memorabilia dealers charged with fraud by the Justice Department. The indictment accused them of selling hundreds of fake game-worn jerseys to trading card companies and other dealers.
Inselberg’s co-defendants all plead guilty. The charges against Inselberg were dismissed when he claimed witnesses—namely Skiba and two other Giants employees—lied to the grand jury.
According to court papers, Skiba admitted to Inselberg that Manning asked him to create “BS” versions of a game-worn helmet and jersey because he wanted to keep the genuine items for himself.
The third plaintiff in the suit is Sean Godwon, a US Navy senior petty officer and Giants fan. Godwon sold the helmet to Jakab. He bought the helmet on eBay for $5,000 but decided to sell it at a loss when he “began to question its authenticity”.
The Giants, Manning, Skiba, Steiner Sports, and Giants co-owner John Mara are named in the lawsuit. Jakab seeks “three times the $4,300 paid for the helmet, legal fees, and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper”.
The Giants vehemently denied any wrongdoing at the time the lawsuit was filed.
Court papers alleges the Giants failed to produce the e-mails between Manning and Skiba despite the Giants’ assertion they do not have a document destruction policy. Manning turned over his e-mails last week.
“Since it appears the Giants failed to preserve any e-mails between Manning and Joe Skiba, and the Giants are keeping Skiba on the payroll and paying his substantial legal bills, the above e-mail exchange may be the only direct evidence that Manning knowingly gave fraudulent helmets for Steiner to sell,” the court documents said.
Attorneys for the Giants released a statement. “The e-mail, taken out of context, was shared with the media by an unscrupulous memorabilia dealer and his counsel who for years has been seeking to leverage a big payday…the e-mail predates any litigation, and there was no legal obligation to store it on the Giants server. Eli Manning is well known for his integrity and this is just the latest misguided attempt to defame his character.”
The suit is set for trial on Sept. 25.