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AMERICA'S NATIONAL PASTIME:
Operation Bullpen Throws Fraud Out of the Game

10/15/03

Operation Bullpen graphicYogi Berra once said, "If people don't want to come out to the ball park, nobody's going to stop them." When it comes to ball park rip offs, though, you can bet that the FBI is going to try to stop them.

Ever been tempted to buy a Mark McGwire autographed baseball?

You're not alone. The world of autographed sports and celebrity memorabilia is huge --a $1 billion a year industry. Unfortunately, at least half of the items that are sold are forgeries, even many that come with certificates of authenticity...which are also forged. Over half!

That's good reason to hesitate before taking advantage of that once-in-a-lifetime deal you think you're getting, whether it's an autographed baseball, bat, trading card, poster, hat, helmet, or sports jersey.

Operation Bullpen.

Back in the mid 1990s, FBI agents in Chicago started investigating what they thought was a local case of forged autographs of Chicago sports stars. But it turned out not to be local at all: arrests were made in 5 states before "Operation Foul Ball" was over.

That case led to Operation Bullpen, part 1: a two-year undercover operation that led to 26 convictions (to date) and the recovery, in 5 different states, of $500,000 in cash and some $10 million worth of forged memorabilia. One of the criminals had joked, "Mickey Mantle still has one arm out of the grave to sign autographs."

Operation Bullpen, part 2, recently concluded, with strong assists from IRS, celebrities, and major businesses. It targeted fake sports and celebrity autographs, many marketed through e-Bay and memorabilia dealers -- and involved investigations in 10 different FBI field offices. Sixteen convictions (so far). And many innings left in the game.

Bottom line.

When you see that irresistible autograph of Red Sox Manny Ramirez... Yankee Jason Giambi...Marlin Ivan Rodriguez... or Cub Sammy Sosa.... Well, you just might want to step back from the plate for a minute... to keep from striking out.