NJ prosecutor’s memorabilia defense just raises more questions

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Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli

NEW JERSEY (PIX11) – Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli is defending himself from a 6-month PIX11 investigation into his auctioning of bogus sports memorabilia. But he’s trying to do it without responding to the crucial issues.

NJ.com, the website of the Star-Ledger, picked up our story about Molinelli. (The story was done for them by NJ Advance Media).

The comment the prosecutor made in their article suggests that perhaps he should have done a little more homework.

In stories last week, we laid out the details of how Molinelli’s office made false statements in official documents so he could get his authenticator of choice to sign off on seized memorabilia.

He never told bidders at his May and September auctions that items previously had been rejected by reputable authenticators. Two top authenticators we retained rapidly determined that baseballs Max had authenticated were forged remnants of a major FBI bust called “Operation Bullpen.” And when we asked Mollinelli, he could not name a single major sports memorabilia auction house that accepts the certification of his hand-picked authenticator, Drew Max.  You may know Max’s name from his former job on the TV show Pawn Stars.

First of all, in the NJ.com article, Molinelli made it sound as if he’s wide open to possible refunds.  But he told us he’d only consider a refund if Drew Max reversed himself and said there was doubt about an item’s authenticity.

Rather than try to explain why he did what he did, Molinelli tried to defend Drew Max in the article:

“Our authenticator has been widely accepted in both state and federal courts as a document and handwriting analyst,” Molinelli said. “…we have been above board on this from day one.”

If everything had been above board then people would have known the history of the items they were bidding on, wouldn’t they?  And the prosecutor’s office wouldn’t have filled a memorandum containing with false statements in order to hire his authenticator of choice.

Yes, Max’s resume cites court cases in which he has testified as a certified forensic examiner.

It also states that the only professional association with which he is still active is the American Board of Forensic Examiners. The organization’s seal is on the homepage of Max’s company, Authentic Autographs Unlimited.


But here’s what the resume doesn’t say and Molinelli didn’t say either.

When autographs are authenticated by a forensic document examiner, knowledgeable collectors say that’s often a sign that there’s something wrong.  Why?   Because spending so much time authenticating autographs is not what bona fide forensic document examiners generally do.  In addition, their prices for time-consuming in depth analysis are generally prohibitive for all but the highest priced autographed items.

Steve Cyrkin who runs a website popular with serious autograph collectors, Autograph Magazine Live.com, put it this way, “The Forensic Document Examiner title makes an unwary collector feel more confident…They are used to deceive naïve collectors.”


Federal Judge Harry Edwards was co-chair of a panel established by the National Academy of Sciences to look into the state of document forensics. In 2009 it found serious deficiencies in forensic science, including a lack of established standards for all forensic sciences except DNA. Even fingerprints!

Here’s an excerpt of Judge Edwards’ comments about forensic certification from a 2012 interview with PBS Frontline correspondent Lowell Bergman:

LOWELL BERGMAN: There’s really no way to tell today—

Judge HARRY T. EDWARDS, U.S. Court of Appeals: No.

LOWELL BERGMAN: —what the certifications mean.


LOWELL BERGMAN: there’s no standard for that.

Judge HARRY T. EDWARDS: There are certifiers, but not what you and I are talking about, that is real licensing programs, real certification programs that train, give serious tests, and will revoke your license and affect your job and ability to testify in the event that you do something wrong or fail. No. That doesn’t exist now.

And what of Drew Max’s certification as a forensic document examiner?  As revealed on the website and resume, it comes from the American Board of Forensic Examiners (ABFE).

The ABFE is administered by a parent organization, the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI).

In the 2012 Frontline program, the ACEFI’s spokesman, noted pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, conceded the organizations certificate approving someone as a Certified Forensic Consultant didn’t carry much weight.

“…that piece of paper doesn’t mean very much. It’s— I’m sure it’s designed to make somebody feel good, to make them feel that they have accomplished something,” Dr. Wecht said according to the Frontline transcript and video of the broadcast.

Watch the Frontline video

So is there reason to believe that Drew Max’s certification as a forensic document examiner (FDE) from the same parent credentialing organization carries any more weight?

Prosecutor Molinelli told us his people vetted Drew Max before he was retained with a $10,000 no bid contract ($7.500 for his examination and $2,500 just to store all the prosecutor’s items where Max works in Las Vegas0.  If so, shouldn’t Molinelli’s office know about questions regarding Max’s certification as a purported expert in his field?  After all, it only took a brief Google search for us to find it.

Molinelli makes it sound as if he’s so open to possible refunds.  But he told us he’d only consider a refund if Drew Max reversed himself and said there was doubt about an item’s authenticity.

The fact is, in the autograph field an authenticator is only as good as his experience, data base of signatures and intention to behave ethically and honestly.

PART ONE: Prosecutor auctions off bogus sports memorabilia

PART TWO: Bergen County prosecutor used false document to sell bogus memorabilia

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