BERGEN COUNTY, New Jersey (PIX11) - A six-month PIX11 investigation may get auction bidders refunds from the Bergen County Prosecutor.
Last month PIX11 broke the story that Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli’s office made false statements in official documents in order to auction off bogus memorabilia.
But one of the successful bidders, Mary Byrne-Slokovitz, says she spoke by phone with Molinelli Thursday. He offered a refund for any items she wanted to return and said other auction “winners” soon would receive letters making the same offer. The prosecutor’s office did not respond to our requests for comment.
Mary and her now husband John spent $2,500 at the May auction in Mahwah. They’re such big Yankee fans they got married at Yankee Stadium this summer. The auction was a big deal for them.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mary told us. “We got a certificate of authenticity and we were excited to have it.”
But we had some of Mary and John’s items examined by two people widely considered as the top authenticators in the country, Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Jim Spence of JSA Authentication. They independently came to the same conclusions: baseballs purportedly signed by Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams were obvious forgeries. They believed them to stem from Operation Bullpen, a major forgery ring broken up by the feds in 1999.
“That style of forgery will come into the office every day,” Grad told us.
“These were signed by the thousands, tens of thousands,” Spence said.
The certificates of authenticity given successful bidders at the prosecutor’s auctions came from a man who used to be on the TV show “Pawn Stars” as an autograph authenticator, Drew Max of Authentic Autographs Unlimited in Las Vegas. But PIX11’s investigation found that none of the six major auction houses we checked would accept Max’s certificate of authenticity to qualify an item for inclusion in its auctions.
We also found that the prosecutor had been warned in 2008 litigation that the memorabilia items in his possession were mostly worthless fakes that already had been rejected by respected authenticators.
Molinelli denied that when we inquired.
“That did not happen,” he said. “They had not been rejected.”
But when we attempted to show him the court document that showed he was told all about it, suddenly told us, “I’m not going to answer your question,” and bolted for his office in the Bergen County Justice Center.
We also found that Molinelli’s office submitted a memorandum to get the ok to hire Drew Max with a $10,000 no bid contract. But the memorandum contained several crucial false statements to justify the hiring.
Even though the prosecutor is offering the refunds, he is still under a cloud. PIX11 has learned the Bergen County Police have opened an investigation into his actions in this matter. The police would not comment when we called.