Bullpen & More, by Kevin Nelson

Posts Tagged ‘Forgery

Operation Bullpen Keeps Making News

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BY KEVIN NELSON I continue to be amazed—and flattered—by the attention that my book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, continues to receive nearly four years after publication. In an interview this month in Collectors Weekly, Sotheby’s consultant and Antiques Roadshow appraiser Leila Dunbar says:

There’s a book about the FBI’s Operation Bullpen, which, in 1999-2000, broke up a ring of forgers across the United States. They estimate that $100 million worth of fake autographs got into the market, and were distributed by all the big sellers. Forged signatures included Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, DiMaggio, and Mantle.

That book was Operation Bullpen, and as I keep writing articles and blogs about forgery for Autograph and other sites and publications—in fact I’ve got a long piece coming out soon about literary forger Forest R. Smith, III—some in the collecting business have come to associate me with the FBI. Why, I’m not entirely sure. I got firsthand accounts and interviews from both the crooks and the FBI in Operation Bullpen; that’s what makes the book so unusual—the story is told from both sides (and fairly too. Both the forgers and law enforcement have praised it as a balanced, accurate account of the crimes.)

Nevertheless, the other day I was doing a story about a collector and I wanted to talk to the dealer who was planning to represent him when he put his collectibles up for auction. The dealer, at first, was a little wary about talking to me because he wondered, mistakenly, if I was involved with the FBI.

Believe me, folks, I’m a writer. And a journalist. If I were in the FBI I’d be getting paid a lot more. And I’d have to wear a suit and tie every day to go to work. But I’m not. I’m just a guy who wrote a book about forgery—here, check out my author’s website if you want to learn more.

Honestly, I figured I’d write Operation Bullpen and then move onto other books and topics, which I have. But I keep writing about forgery and other types of collector crime because it remains an endlessly fascinating subject, with breaking new developments all the time. The dealer eventually relaxed, we had our interview, and I filed the article with the magazine that assigned me to do it.

That’s the way it works in the writing biz—nothing more to it than that. But a writer lives and dies by his sources, and if you’ve got a question or tip about forgery or collecting crimes, drop me a line. I’m interested.

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Written by Kevin Nelson

August 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Forging Author Signatures: A Nice Racket, Too

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April 28, 2010. By KEVIN NELSON Is the forging of author autographs as widespread as the forging of celebrities and sports stars? I ask this because of new revelations about Forest Smith, the Pennsylvania forger who was sentenced in February for ripping off book collectors and others to the tune of $300,000.

According to sentencing documents in the case that I have obtained, when Smith was busted in December 2008, he had in his house some 2,400 books that he ostensibly planned to use for his criminal activities. As I wrote in the December 2009 Autograph, Smith bought unsigned first editions of prominent authors on one eBay account, stamped the books with their fake signatures, then sold them through a different eBay account to unsuspecting buyers who thought the autographs were real.

When they busted him, authorities confiscated 800 of the books in his house as evidence. Smith later confessed that he had planned to continue his forging scheme for at least several more years, and that he had gotten the original idea for it from seeing other dubious book sellers peddling phony stuff on eBay.  “Then once he realized that there were others or what he believes to be others on eBay sort of engaging in fraudulent activity,” as his defense attorney put it, “Mr. Smith realized that he could make more money by doing the same.”

There are of course many more celebrity and sports autographs on the market than author signatures. But based on the Smith case, people who buy author-signed books online need to be as careful, and practice just as much due diligence, as collectors in those other fields.

Kevin Nelson’s book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, is under development to be a movie and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is planning a museum exhibit on it. Contact him here.

Written by Kevin Nelson

April 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Yes, Forgeries are Sold at Charity Auctions

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By KEVIN NELSON March 11, 2010 Do forgers and fraud artists sell their fake goods at charity auctions? I was asked this question by a reader who had bought a signed 1932 Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig baseball at a charity auction and was appalled at the idea that it could be bogus.

“I bought this in good faith (it was a charity auction after all),” she wrote me in an email. “I had no reason to even question it.” Then she sold it to an auction house, which did indeed have reason to question it. The auction house submitted the ball to an authenticator and “it failed,” she told me gloomily.

Now the auction house has returned the ball to her and wants its money back. The woman is perplexed and now, suddenly, suspicious. She is not a collector and knew little about the authentication process before getting tangled up in this mess.

Without even seeing a picture of it, I told her that almost certainly the ball was bad. But how could that be-she bought it at a …charity auction! I suppose it is of little consolation to her to realize that she is hardly alone. Unsuspecting, well-intentioned Americans buy fake-signed merchandise at charity auctions all the time, all across this great and benevolent land.

Do the charities and nonprofit organizations know what they are peddling? No, likely they do not. Like this woman, the good-hearted people who put on these auctions are typically not collectors and innocent of the wolfish ways of counterfeit dealers. So, too, are the equally good-hearted souls who bid on these fakes, often paying an above-market price because they wish to support the good cause being funded by the auction. They likely think the autographs are legitimate as well.

And they may be. Not every signed piece of merchandise sold at a charity auction is a fraud, of course. But these auctions are a time-honored method for counterfeit dealers to move merchandise, and lots of it. The dealers may receive a percentage of the price of the items sold. They may receive tax deductions for their donations. They may get a tax deduction and make money. Through their gifts they may also come to be viewed by the charity as community benefactors, noble and selfless givers, although in reality they may only be crooks.

Kevin Nelson is the author of Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History. Contact him here.Yes,

Written by Kevin Nelson

March 11, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Hall of Fame Planning Exhibit on Operation Bullpen

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The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is planning an exhibit on Operation Bullpen, possibly for next year. I just wrote an article about it for Tuff Stuff and Sports Collector’s Digest, explaining how the FBI and Hall of Fame started working together on the exhibit and how my book, Operation Bullpen, played a part in all of it. One of the things I talk about is how the Mother Teresa baseball (below) may become part of the exhibit, with the general public getting the chance to see it for the first time. There’s also some good stuff in there about how the FBI cracked the case, and you can read it right here.

Mother Teresa ball

Written by Kevin Nelson

July 13, 2009 at 8:49 pm

More Forgeries of Hall of Famers

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One of the nice things about blogging software is that it allows you to track the number of hits you receive on your site, and what articles are the most popular. Judging by the number of hits I received on “Forging Hall of Famers,” lots of people enjoyed seeing the fake autographs of Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewon, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. By popular demand, then, here are a few more forgeries of Babe Ruth, a combo ball of Willie McCovey and Hank Aaron, and Eddie Murray, all seized by the FBI during Operation Bullpen:

Babe Ruth Ball CloseupMcCovey ball

Eddie Murray combo signed

Written by Kevin Nelson

May 18, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Big Reaction to Operation Bullpen Excerpt in Autograph Magazine

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The April issue of Autograph Magazine carried an exclusive excerpt from Operation Bullpen, and it generated a big reaction from readers. Here is a brief sampling of what two people said:

“As a subscriber for a few years now, I found the article on Operation Bullpen outstanding…These ‘authenticators,’ who are mostly ‘opinionators,’ along with Auction LOAs, ineffective postal inspectors and the list goes on, send chills or should to everyone. Autograph should have a standing wall of shame.”—Dennis Bishop, via email

“The current issue of Autograph is excellent. Congratulations. You did incredible work in the right direction and I very much appreciate the quality of the articles, especially the Operation Bullpen case.”—Markus Brandes, Kesswil, Switzerland

The editor, Kimberly Cole, adds: “Thanks to all the readers who in praising the April issue. Operation Bullpen was a particular favorite. The author, Kevin Nelson is hard at work on a follow-up story for us.”

The working title of that piece is “Whistle Blowers: Passionate, Committed, and Out to Stop the Forgers.” I’ve now finished it, and it is scheduled to appear in Autograph in the July issue. Here is a Neil Armstrong forgery on stamps, provided to me by John Reznikoff, who is interviewed for the piece.

Neil Armstrong forged stamps

Written by Kevin Nelson

May 18, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Kevin Nelson Interview on ESPN

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KN on ESPN

I appeared on ESPN’s “The Hot List” in an interview about the Operation Bullpen scam. Watch it here.

Written by Kevin Nelson

May 18, 2009 at 6:02 pm