A lawsuit over claims that Giants employees created counterfeit memorabilia produced a startling allegation Thursday. A court filing contained emails that, according to the plaintiffs, show quarterback Eli Manning conspiring to peddle helmets falsely depicted as being game-used.
Manning has a contract with memorabilia dealer Steiner Sports to provide authentic equipment worn by him. However, the lawsuit claims that, rather than “give up the real stuff,” as an equipment manager is alleged to have acknowledged to one of the plaintiffs, the two-time Super Bowl MVP preferred to have team staffers create “BS” versions of helmets and jerseys.
According to court documents filed Tuesday and obtained by the New York Post, Manning used a personal AOL account to send emails to the official team account of a Giants employee. From the Post’s story:
“2 helmets that can pass as game used. That is it. Eli,” Manning wrote to equipment manager Joe Skiba from a BlackBerry on April 27, 2010, according to the documents.
Less than 20 minutes later, Manning wrote to his marketing agent, Alan Zucker, who requested the helmets, saying: “Should be able to get them for tomorrow.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three memorabilia collectors, two of whom had filed separate suits but subsequently joined forces. One of them, Eric Inselberg, was indicted on federal charges of selling counterfeit jerseys in 2011, following an FBI sting, but the case was dropped after he provided evidence that Giants employees had misrepresented their relationship with him to a grand jury.
Allegations previously made by Inselberg in the lawsuit included Skiba doctoring a helmet, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to make it look like Manning had worn it in the Giants’ 2008 Super Bowl win over the Patriots. In another email exchange presented as evidence (via the New York Post), Inselberg asked Skiba in 2008, “Hey Joe, my buddy was offered an eli game used helmet and jersey. Are these the bs ones eli asked you to make up because he didnt want to give up the real stuff?” The equipment manager replied, “BS ones, you are correct…”
Those emails were preserved on Inselberg’s AOL account, which was key, the court filing said, because “the Giants failed to preserve any emails between Manning and Joe Skiba.” Given that “the Giants are keeping Skiba on the payroll and paying his substantial legal bills,” the plaintiffs claimed, the email exchange revealed this week “may be the only direct evidence that Manning knowingly gave fraudulent helmets to Steiner for sale to fans.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Brian Brook, told the Post, “I do give Eli and his lawyers credit for not destroying evidence.”
The Giants said in a statement, “The email, taken out of context, was shared with the media by an unscrupulous memorabilia dealer and his counsel who for years has been seeking to leverage a big payday. The email predates any litigation, and there was no legal obligation to store it on the Giants server.
“Eli Manning is well known for his integrity and this is just the latest misguided attempt to defame his character.”
Another plaintiff, Michael Jakab, claimed that he paid over $4,300 for a helmet purported to have been worn by Manning during the 2007 season that led to a Super Bowl win. Jakab said he began to have suspicions when he couldn’t match the helmet to any worn by the quarterback in photos from that period, and when he realized “it was missing the swatches of Velcro [to attach radio transmitters] that are supposed to be next to the earholes on all quarterback helmets.”
Inselberg’s litigation claimed that the Giants’ longtime dry cleaner had been enlisted to “to intentionally damage multiple jerseys to make them appear to have been game-worn when they had not been.” The lawsuit, which names as defendants Manning, Skiba and others, including Giants owner John Mara, is set for trial in September.