HACKENSACK, N.J. (CN) – As the New York Giants and their star quarterback prepare for an expected final season together, the team and Eli Manning face a trial next week trial that accuses them of scamming football-memorabilia collectors.
Jury selection begins on May 14 in the case, which will determine whether Giants equipment staff conspired with the Super Bowl-winning quarterback to hawk helmets and jerseys misidentified as “game-used.”
Sports memorabilia dealer Eric Inselberg initiated the case in 2014 after a years-long FBI sting operation into counterfeit jerseys ruined his business.
With Inselberg claiming that the Giants execs lied to make him a scapegoat, the case so far has led to thousands of pages of documents and more than 100 motions.
“The FBI never learned how several Giants employees, including the franchise quarterback, repeatedly engaged in the distribution of fraudulent Giants memorabilia,” Inselberg’s complaint alleges. “But the cost of the Giants’ cover up was that the grand jury indicted an innocent man: the plaintiff, Eric Inselberg.”
Inselberg accuses the Giants of a “long-standing involvement in game-used memorabilia fraud,” saying they even had a dry cleaner alter jerseys to make them looked used.
The fraud was so widespread, Inselberg claims, that the even Manning’s helmet in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is supposed to be the one he wore during Super Bowl XLI, is fake.
Another fake, Inselberg claims, is the helmet sold to Steiner Sports, supposedly worn by Manning during his second Super Bowl.
Among the potentially damning documents are emails between Manning and Giants equipment manager Joseph Skiba, in which the quarterback asks for “2 helmets that can pass as game used.”
Another email from 2008 that Inselberg claims he asked Skiba about Manning’s used helmets and jerseys. “Are these the bs ones eli asked you to make up because he didn’t want to give up the real stuff?” Inselberg asked in the email. “BS ones, you are correct,” Skiba responded.
The typically low-key Manning angrily denounced the allegations last spring, telling reporters: “I’m more angry than anything. I’ve done nothing wrong and I’m still being attacked.”
Manning’s attorneys claimed the emails had been marked confidential and should never have been released, and that Manning was merely honoring a contract with Steiner Sports to provide two each of game-used helmets and jerseys.
Though Inselberg named Skiba as a defendant to the original suit, the claims against him have since been dismissed. Inselberg has been joined meanwhile by fellow collectors Michael Jakab and Sean Godown as co-plaintiffs.
Other potentially damaging exhibits from the plaintiffs include photos of Manning wearing helmets that do not correspond with game-used helmets later sold by collectors, and emails that indicate the Giants’ in-house counsel knew of the accusations in 2011.
Giants co-owner John Mara, who testified during deposition earlier this year, says he was not aware of the accusations until the 2014 suit.
Attorneys for the Giants from the firm McCarter & English have argued that no expert reports have showed fraudulent helmets. They also deny that the collectors suffered damages.
In Bergen County Superior Court, the jurist originally slated to preside over the case had been Judge James DeLuca.
An avid Giants fan with season tickets, DeLuca refused several demands by Inselberg’s attorneys to step down from the case only to recuse himself last month after transferring out of the court’s civil division.
One of DeLuca’s final acts in the case was to dismiss the racketeering charges against Manning and the Giants. “In light of [the collectors’] failure to how an enterprise, the motions for summary judgment as to NJRICO must be granted,” DeLuca wrote. Several contract and common-law fraud claims remain.
Judge Charles Powers Jr. will now oversee the case.
The case’s trial date also has been postponed several times. Originally it was to be held last September, but scheduling conflicts and a new lead attorney for the Giants caused the trial delays.
Inselberg is represented by attorney Brian Brook of Clinton Brook & Peed.
Manning is represented by attorneys at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.