Trial begins for Eli Manning's memorabilia fraud suit

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in a lawsuit accusing New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Giants equipment staff of conspiring to pass off fake “game-used” helmets as authentic memorabilia.

Why are Eli Manning and the Giants on trial?

Memorabilia dealer Eric Inselberg filed suit in 2014 charging that two “game-used” helmets that he and two other memorabilia dealers bought were not actually used in any games. The plaintiffs charged that photo matching could not find evidence that the helmets were ever used in any games.

Manning and the Giants have denied the claims, countering that it’s Inselberg who has trafficked in fake memorabilia. Attorneys for Manning have called the suit “inflammatory and baseless.”

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Eli Manning through his career
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Eli Manning through his career
University of Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning (R) greets Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Josh Fields after the Rebels defeated the Cowboys 31-28 at the 68th Cotton Bowl Classic in Dallas, Texas, January 2, 2004. Manning passed for 259 yards. REUTERS/Jeff Mitchell JM
Quarterback Eli Manning (L), from the University of Mississippi, stands with his brother, NFL quarterback Payton Manning, after Eli was chosen as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, at Madison Square Garden in New York, April 24, 2004. Manning was originally selected by the San Diego Chargers, who then traded him to the New York Giants shortly afterwards for future draft picks. REUTERS/Chip East MS/HB
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10), the first choice in the 2004 National Football League draft, listens to Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel (L) as he works out on the first day of the Giants Mandatory Mini-Camp at the Giants practice facility next to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, May 7, 2004. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine RFS
New York Giants starting quarterback Eli Manning throws a pass during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, November 21, 2004. Manning, this season's number 1 overall NFL draft pick, was making his first start for the Giants replacing Kurt Warner who started the Giants' first nine games of the season. REUTERS/Mike Segar MS
New York Giants quarterback Manning celebrates throwing a touchdown pass next to Arizona Cardinals Okeafor in East Rutherford. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (R) celebrates throwing a touchdown pass next to Arizona Cardinals Chike Okeafor (L) during first quarter action in their NFL game in East Rutherford September 11, 2005. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning throws against the Washington Redskins in the first half of their NFL game in Landover, Maryland, December 24, 2005. Washington defeated New York 35-20. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (L) talks with his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, following their NFL football game in East Rutherford September 10, 2006. The game was the first time the brothers played against each other as quarterbacks in the NFL. Indianapolis defeated New York. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning tries to evade a tackle by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Demarcus Ware (R) in the fourth quarter of their NFL footall game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, December 3, 2006. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning (10) rolls out of the pocket during second quarter of his team's NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, New York December 23, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin (L) stands with quarterback Eli Manning before their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Irving, Texas, January 13, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is interviewed by the NFL Network during press conference in Phoenix, Arizona, January 28, 2008. The Giants will play the undefeated New England Patriots in the National Football League's Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona, February 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Topping (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) celebrates after his touchdown pass to teammate David Tyree (not pictured) in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots in the NFL's Super Bowl XLII football game in Glendale, Arizona, February 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy during his team's ticker tape Super Bowl victory parade through the Canyon of Heroes along Broadway in New York February 5, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants Eli Manning looks on as time expires during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game loss to the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Ohio October 13, 2008. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his wife Abby McGrew watch the match between Andy Roddick and John Isner at the U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, September 5, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray (UNITED STATES SPORT TENNIS ENTERTAINMENT)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning celebrates throwing a touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks against the Carolina Panthers during the first quarter in their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, September 12, 2010. The touchdown was the first scored during a regular season game in the Giants new stadium. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning waves as he leaves the field after the Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys in their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, January 1, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning addresses the media during a news conference for the Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis January 30, 2012. The Giants will play against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on February 5. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the NFL Super Bowl XLVI football game in Indianapolis, Indiana, February 5, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes against the New York Jets during the first quarter of their pre-season NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey August 18, 2012. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (L) stands with teammate Lawrence Tynes in the final minutes of their NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in East Rutherford, New Jersey, December 30, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
May 4, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning watch the game between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) hands off the ball to New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings (23) in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) reacts after a touchdown was called back on a holding penalty during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) before a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; From left Benjamin Watson , Eli Manning , Anquan Boldin stand with their awards during the Walter Payton man of the year press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) drops back to pass against the Chicago Bears during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) leaves the field after the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) reacts after a play against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
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What’s the significance of “game-used” memorabilia?

Game-used equipment, as you probably gathered from the name, was used in an actual NFL game, and thus carries far more value than, say, a Giants-logo helmet you buy off the shelf at your local sporting goods store. Of course, absent seeing Eli run off the field and hand you the helmet himself, you wouldn’t know for certain that what you’re getting is actually “game-used.” (Eli also graciously provides many game-used balls, free of charge, to various NFL secondaries throughout the season.)

Authentication services seek to give customers the peace of mind that what they’re getting is actually game-used, providing certificates of authenticity and holograms to attest to the on-field origins of memorabilia, but again, there’s an element of good faith involved – you have to believe the team itself is pipelining equipment directly from the field. This lawsuit is questioning whether the Giants were playing by the rules in providing that equipment.

What’s the basis of the lawsuit?

Inselberg’s photographic experts compared the helmets to images from games throughout the appropriate seasons, and were unable to find matches. Thus, the plaintiffs contend, the Giants and Manning were trying to pass off other helmets as “game-used.”

The Giants counter that simply matching photos to helmets is an insufficient method of determining authenticity, since helmets can be reconditioned after use but before being turned over to memorabilia dealers.

Would there happen to be any suspicious emails?

Why, yes there would. Back in April 2017, Inselberg’s attorneys filed documents that included emails between Manning and Giants equipment manager Joseph Skiba; one email from Manning asks Skiba to obtain “2 helmets that can pass as game used.” Inselberg’s attorneys point to that message as an indication of a pattern of fraud. The attorneys further noted that they would introduce evidence at trial that would “show that Manning engaged in a pattern of knowingly providing items to Steiner Sports that he misrepresented as having been game-used when he knew they were not.”

However, Manning has denied the charges. His attorneys say that the email was meant to get Skiba to provide game-used helmets that would, in fact, be game-used. “Manning never instructed Joe Skiba to create any fraudulent memorabilia,” Manning’s attorney Robert Lawrence wrote in court filings. “Rather, Manning believed that if he asked Joe Skiba for his helmets, he received his game-used helmets and that the helmets he received from Skiba were his game-used helmets.” Lawrence also charged that Inselberg has obtained other game-used Giants equipment without permission.

Will this settle?

Every case could settle, but the outsize personalities involved in this one seem to suggest it’s going to trial. The memorabilia dealer holds at least one powerful card in the email, while Manning has his reputation to protect. Manning could be called to testify in the coming days, which would make for some fascinating courtroom drama. More on this as it develops.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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