Minnesota man accused of selling fake MLB jerseys

The head of a Minnesota sports memorabilia company was charged

Thursday with orchestrating a scheme to sell fraudulent sports

merchandise online, including fake baseball jerseys he claimed were

worn during games by Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Albert

Pujols.

U.S. postal inspectors arrested Steven Jensen, chief executive

of Plymouth-based Vintage Sports Authentics, during a sports

collectors’ convention in Rosemont, Ill. He is charged in federal

court in New York City with one count of mail fraud and one count

of wire fraud.

Jensen, 40, of Osseo, and his company are accused of knowingly

auctioning off jerseys between July 2007 and last month that were

purportedly ”game used,” worn by prominent baseball players, but

were not authentic.

If customers independently learned the jerseys were fake and

returned them, Jensen allegedly re-auctioned them, authorities

said. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service did not immediately put a

dollar figure for the alleged scheme.

Messages left at Vintage Sports Authentics were not returned

Thursday. A message seeking comment also was left at a telephone

listing for Steven Jensen in Osseo.

Thomas Boyle, an assistant inspector-in-charge with the postal

inspection service, said no merchandise was seized from Jensen’s

booth at the National Sports Collectors Convention on Thursday.

Authorities also searched his company warehouse in Plymouth.

Vintage Sports Authentics auctions sports memorabilia

”purported to be authentic and genuine,” according to the

criminal complaint filed in New York.

In July 2007, the complaint said, one customer in the Bronx paid

more than $3,000 for a home Seattle Mariners jersey the company

said was worn by Rodriguez during the 1995 season. The customer

brought the jersey to a sports memorabilia show in New Rochelle,

N.Y., in January 2010 for Rodriguez to sign.

An authenticator at the show determined the jersey was fake

because the name plate fabric was different from the rest of the

jersey, the complaint said.

The complaint said Jensen stood by the jersey’s authenticity

when approached by the customer, who eventually returned the jersey

after a former Mariners equipment manager examined it and also

concluded it wasn’t genuine.

Vintage Sports Authentics re-auctioned the jersey online last

February, falsely stating it was the real thing, the complaint

said.

In another online auction, an undercover postal inspector paid

$477 to buy an away Oakland Athletics jersey advertised as being

worn by McGwire in 1997. The agent spoke with several people to

determine the jersey was fake, including McGwire, according to the

complaint.

The postal inspector showed McGwire a list of other memorabilia

offered by Vintage Sports Authentics, including a Home Run Derby

jersey purportedly worn by McGwire during the 1999 All-Star Game.

McGwire told the agent he still has his Home Run Derby jersey, the

complaint said.

The agent told Jensen the jersey was fake and returned it, and

his company offered it online again as genuine, the complaint

said.

Vintage Sports Authentics also offered an away St. Louis

Cardinals jersey in February said to be worn by Pujols in 2002. But

Pujols told officials he still possesses the only two away

Cardinals jerseys issued to him for the 2002 season.

Christopher Cavalier, chief executive officer of Game Used

Universe, which hosts online auctions and collector forums, said

sports memorabilia collectors must educate themselves and examine

jersey stitching, lettering, manufacturer’s tags and other details

to determine an item’s authenticity.

”It’s an unregulated industry,” Cavalier said. ”There is a

lot of money to be made and if people aren’t educated, the

collector is the one who is going to lose out.”