According to an article written by Paul Lesko on Cardboard Connection, some names have been released in the fraud case of Brad Wells. For those who were not around the hobby at the time, Wells was arrested at the 2009 National Sports Collectors Convention for the alleged sale of fraudulent sports memorabilia. An interview conducted by the FBI, which is not official evidence of guilt, has been released, with names of top card companies being mentioned.
This despicable practice is nothing new to the hobby, but what makes Wells stand out is that some of the memorabilia may have been sold to card companies for use in their product.
As far as it relates to the card industry itself, Wells sold memorabilia to Donruss, Upper Deck, and Topps, with the most going to Donruss and the least going to Topps.
An interview conducted by the FBI in 2009 that has now been made public, revealed that Wells obtained memorabilia
from other third party dealers, and even purchased some on Ebay. He also
went into details about how he would dirty-up jerseys and bats to make
them seem used.
Bats were taken to a local baseball field, where staff members would take batting practice to put wear on the bats. He also would put jerseys in the dryer to erase wrinkles that came from the shipping process. In the interview, Wells also talked about frequently receiving jerseys from his sources that came in pristine condition. He assumed that these jerseys were officially-issued uniforms to the actual players, but were never used in a game. Despite the chance that these official jerseys may or may not have been worn in a game, they were sold to the card companies as game-worn memorabilia. Wells even printed out certificates of authenticity identifying them as game used.
While, sadly, it may not come as a surprise that somebody would try and sell fake memorabilia, there is even one aspect of this story that is more disturbing.
In the interview, Wells expressed his belief that while they would never put it in writing, the card companies knew that a lot of what they were purchasing was not "game used." He recalled an incident at the Anaheim National three years prior where he dealt with Upper Deck buyer Mike O'Grady, who was looking to save money on Derek Jeter jerseys for somewhere in the range of $1,000 to $2,000. Upper Deck had been purchasing their Jeter jerseys from Steiner Sports at a rate of between $3,500 and $5,000. Steiner Sports got all of their Jeter jerseys directly from the New York Yankees, hence the higher price point.
Now, according to Wells, he warned O'Grady that buy asking for Jeter jerseys at such a low price, he was inviting fraud, to which O'Grady allegedly replied that Upper Deck knew what they were getting, but needed the jerseys at that price.
The interview listed plenty of other instances of shady practices, third-party dealings, and deception by Wells, his employees, and even the card companies themselves. I'd encourage any collector to give the six-page report a read.
I guess through all this, we now know what many of us have always feared, that some of our relics and memorabilia may not be 100 percent legit. This, for the most part is not the card companies themselves trying to intentionally deceive us. However, due to the proliferation of memorabilia embedded in cards, cost does become an issue.
The truth is, we never know how authentic our cards actually are. We are forced to put a great deal of trust in the card companies, and hope that they put our best interests in mind, and don't cut corners for the sake of price point. Regardless of how trustworthy a company may be, the fact is, unless you get the card autographed yourself, or have the player take of his jersey and hand it to you, you don't REALLY know the authenticity with 100 percent certainty.
For me, unless I know that it's fake, I assume that it's real. There are some pretty shady businesses and people out there who are trying to swerve collectors and companies, but if I were to worry about every single card I have, bottom line, I just wouldn't be able to collect. Maybe I've just got my head in the sand, and maybe I put way too much trust in my fellow man, but it's the only thing preventing me from throwing my hands up and walking away from the whole thing.
However, it is always important for us, as collectors, to educate ourselves one what's out there, and know what's going on. I'll continue to be an optimist, but I'll also be smart about it.