Author: Kevin Nelson

"Masterminds" Episode on Operation Bullpen on YouTube

BY KEVIN NELSON In 2006 the “Masterminds” TV series produced an episode on the Operation Bullpen case that you can now watch on Youtube. Well, excerpts from it anyhow. The excerpts were posted by a guy named “JoeMLM,” whose purpose is to call attention to the ongoing problem of forgeries in the memorabilia trade. Some of you may have seen the original program, but if you haven”t, this might be worth a look. The “Masterminds” docu-drama is entitled “Foul Ball”—the FBI”s code name for its investigation into Michael Jordan forgeries in Chicago, which was then followed by the Operation Bullpen investigation. It aired for the first time in December five years ago, right after my book on Bullpen came out. There”s a homemade quality to the posting on Youtube. It’s been trimmed and it”s choppy, and the actual “Masterminds” program that was broadcast around the country is far superior to what you will see here. On Youtube it begins with JoeMLM talking off-camera—apparently he wishes to keep his identity secret, thus he does not show his face—and he makes comments here and there, so be patient. The episode gets going after about a minute or so. It includes an on-camera interview with Wayne Bray, the “mastermind” of the $100 million Operation Bullpen rip-off, and recreates some of the things he did by using an actor who plays him. An actor...

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Q&A on Forgeries, Fakes and Corruption vs. Love

BY KEVIN NELSON  Recently I received an email from Stephen Andon, a PhD candidate in Communication at Florida State University, who is writing a dissertation on sports memorabilia. After having read Operation Bullpen and the blogging  I’m doing for Autograph Magazine and at my Bullpen website, he wanted to ask me a few questions about forgeries (such as this Babe Ruth fake, penned by Greg Marino) and corruption in the sports memorabilia industry. Here are excerpts from our discussion: Is it interesting to you that we keep finding forgeries today — even important pieces – such as pieces in...

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Instant Reaction to ‘Monsters’

BY KEVIN NELSON Oct. 13, 2010 One of the great things about the Internet is that you can get instantaneous feedback on your writing. So it is with Monsters Behind The Door, my piece on the anonymous threats and bullying used by forgers and counterfeiters that went up on Autograph Magazine’s site just a couple of days ago. Here are two emails I’ve received on it already: Nice job, Kevin. As you know, the stupidity and sometimes the threats come with the turf when you’re trying to reveal the truth. And this longer letter, from Travis Roste of JoeHeavyweight.com: Nice article. It’s obvious that the people who are willing participants in forgeries or the selling of forgeries are the ones who are harassing people like Chris Williams. I defend Chris in his videos, and then they start in on me. Some of the people selling the forgeries aren’t the forgers themselves, but they sell them because they think they are knowledgeable themselves, and they know just enough to be dangerous. There is a guy on eBay who sells fake 500 home run balls and other fake stuff because he believes that the cheap stuff he buys there is real. So when he flips it, he doesn’t have any problem selling a fake because it COULD be real. This guy just sold a signed Roy Campanella bat for $166 when...

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Monsters Behind the Door—The Power Struggle in Autographs Today

By Kevin Nelson For my book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Ring in American History, I did an interview with ESPN, which I later posted on YouTube. When you post a video on YouTube and someone comments on it, the comment is then relayed to you in your email in-box. This was what popped into my in-box the other day: “I am a stupid buyer of forgeries, and your mother’s breasts are fake as well.” The email writer did not actually use the word “breasts,” but rather a euphemism for them that may be more appropriate for an HBO comedy routine than a magazine such as Autograph. Upon receiving this, I wondered to myself why, when people are trying to insult you, they always pick on your mother, not your father. In any case, another electronic raspberry arrived the next day:“Kevin Nelson and Tom Tresh look like a pair of refugee’s [sic] from the 100-pound bench press club.” And then, two days after that: “Operation Bullsh**t perhaps much more fitting?” In all, I received five equally charming and witty emails from this person, who did not identify himself although I feel quite confident he was a man. I do not believe a woman would use a crude description of the male member on her email address, as this fellow did. Nor, in my view, would...

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Operation Bullpen Keeps Making News

BY KEVIN NELSON August 23, 2010 I continue to be amazed—and flattered—by the attention that my book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, continues to receive nearly four years after publication. In an interview this month in Collectors Weekly, Sotheby”s consultant and Antiques Roadshow appraiser Leila Dunbar says: There”s a book about the FBI”s Operation Bullpen, which, in 1999-2000, broke up a ring of forgers across the United States. They estimate that $100 million worth of fake autographs got into the market, and were distributed by all the big sellers. Forged signatures included Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, DiMaggio, and Mantle. That book was Operation Bullpen, and as I keep writing articles and blogs about forgery for Autograph and other sites and publications—in fact I”ve got a long piece coming out soon about literary forger Forest R. Smith, III—some in the collecting business have come to associate me with the FBI. Why, I”m not entirely sure. I got firsthand accounts and interviews from both the crooks and the FBI in Operation Bullpen; that”s what makes the book so unusual—the story is told from both sides (and fairly too. Both the forgers and law enforcement have praised it as a balanced, accurate account of the crimes.) Nevertheless, the other day I was doing a story about a collector and I wanted to talk to the...

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Forging Author Signatures: A Nice Racket, Too

April 28, 2010. BY KEVIN NELSON Is the forging of author autographs as widespread as the forging of celebrities and sports stars? I ask this because of new revelations about Forest Smith, the Pennsylvania forger who was sentenced to prison in February for ripping off book collectors and others to the tune of $300,000. According to sentencing documents in the case that I have obtained, when Smith was busted in December 2008, he had in his house some 2,400 books that he ostensibly planned to use for his criminal activities. As I wrote in the December 2009 Autograph, Smith bought unsigned first editions of prominent authors on one eBay account, stamped the books with their fake signatures, then sold them through a different eBay account to unsuspecting buyers who thought the autographs were real. When they busted him, authorities confiscated 800 of the books in his house as evidence. Smith later confessed that he had planned to continue his forging scheme for at least several more years, and that he had gotten the original idea for it from seeing other dubious book sellers peddling phony stuff on eBay.  “Then once he realized that there were others or what he believes to be others on eBay sort of engaging in fraudulent activity,” as his defense attorney put it, “Mr. Smith realized that he could make more money by doing the...

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Yes, Forgeries are Sold at Charity Auctions

By KEVIN NELSON March 11, 2010 Do forgers and fraud artists sell their fake goods at charity auctions? I was asked this question by a reader who had bought a signed 1932 Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig baseball at a charity auction and was appalled at the idea that it could be bogus. “I bought this in good faith (it was a charity auction after all),” she wrote me in an email. “I had no reason to even question it.” Then she sold it to an auction house, which did indeed have reason to question it. The auction house submitted the ball to an authenticator and “it failed,” she told me gloomily. Now the auction house has returned the ball to her and wants its money back. The woman is perplexed and now, suddenly, suspicious. She is not a collector and knew little about the authentication process before getting tangled up in this mess. Without even seeing a picture of it, I told her that almost certainly the ball was bad. But how could that be-she bought it at a …charity auction! I suppose it is of little consolation to her to realize that she is hardly alone. Unsuspecting, well-intentioned Americans buy fake-signed merchandise at charity auctions all the time, all across this great and benevolent land. Do the charities and nonprofit organizations know what they are peddling? No,...

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Book Forgery Investigator Reveals More

By KEVIN NELSON February 24, 2010 Al Herzog, the United States Postal Inspector mainly responsible for busting book forger Forrest Smith, said that one of the things that made Smith stand out to him was the “boisterous” fake ID he used on eBay. “When I was told about the two eBay user ID’s Smith was using, one of them was ‘bigdaddy_books,'” Herzog wrote to me in an email. “This user ID sounded a bit ‘boisterous’ to me and although the presence or lack of such a user ID, name, nickname, etc. does not determine my interest in an investigation, it certainly was in the back of my mind even as I worked on other cases and helped to pique my curiosity.” His curiosity piqued, Herzog conducted an eleven- month investigation that eventually sent Smith to prison. As I reported last week, Smith, a married 48-year-old Pennsylvanian with children, is now serving a 33-month prison term and has been ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution to his victims. Smith was arrested in late 2008 after forging the signatures of authors such as Truman Capote, James Michener and Anne Rice and selling first editions of their books on eBay as if the authors themselves had autographed them. I wrote an article about the case for Autograph in which I interviewed Herzog, and after the news broke about Smith’s sentencing I went...

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Literary Forger Forrest Smith Sentenced

The painful cost of forgery—to its victims as well as its perpetrators—became evident again last week when a Pennsylvania judge sentenced forger Forrest Smith to 33 months in prison and ordered him to pay $120,000 to the people he ripped off in his scam. Smith, 48, of Reading, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, had been free on bail. But after sentencing, guards took him immediately into custody. For about six years, from 2002 to late 2008, Smith had run a forgery business on eBay, buying unsigned first editions of books by Truman Capote, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, and other big-name authors. Then he stamped their signatures into the books as if the authors themselves had signed them, and sold these fake-signed firsts for nifty sums on the Internet auction site. Authorities estimate that he ripped off hundreds of eBay customers for up to $300,000 until a federal investigation, conducted by United States Postal Inspector Al Herzog, brought him down. Smith pled guilty to wire and mail fraud last year. Michael Hinkelman of the Philadelphia Daily News reports that U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg expressed “grave concern” over Smith’s mental and emotional state at the sentencing. Smith has evidently tried to commit suicide twice in the past year. “Show me mercy not because I deserve it, but because I don’t,” he told the judge, “but because my family will not survive.” Both...

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Autograph Calendar

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Tue 26

Donate Memorabilia to Goldin Auctions Hurricane Relief Fund Auction

September 1 @ 12:00 am - September 26 @ 10:30 pm EDT
Tue 26
Wed 27

Christie’s Audrey Hepburn Auction: The Personal Collection, Part I

September 27 @ 2:00 pm - October 27 @ 6:00 pm BST
Sat 30