At the end of this month, Eli Manning could see the Giants draft his replacement with the No. 2 overall pick. Next month could bring an even bigger headache for the veteran quarterback, as a New Jersey judge ruled Thursday that a trial, scheduled for May 14, will go forward in a lawsuit in which Manning is accused of participating in a scheme to defraud memorabilia collectors.
The legal proceedings have been building since 2014, when the lawsuit was filed by Eric Insberg, a major collector and dealer of Giants-related memorabilia who had been indicted on federal charges of selling counterfeit jerseys in 2011. However, the case was dropped after he provided evidence that Giants employees had misrepresented their relationship with him to a grand jury, and he subsequently took the team to court for fraud and conspiracy.
Two other collectors who had filed separate suits joined forces with Insberg, who also named Giants co-owner John Mara, equipment manager John Skiba and memorabilia company Steiner Sports as defendants. The collectors’ main contention has been that Manning and the Giants passed off equipment, such as helmets, as game-worn when they had actually been altered to merely appear that way.
Manning had a contract with Steiner Sports to provide authentic equipment worn by him. However, the lawsuit claims that, rather than “give up the real stuff,” as Skiba is alleged to have acknowledged to one of the plaintiffs, he preferred to have team staffers create “BS” versions of helmets and jerseys.
Attorneys for the two-time Super Bowl MVP had attempted to get New Jersey Superior Court Judge James J. DeLuca to dismiss the claims, but instead he found that Manning could have possibly committed common law fraud and consumer fraud (per ESPN). In April 2017, a court filing contained emails in which Manning appeared to ask Skiba for “2 helmets that can pass as game used.”
Shortly thereafter, the normally placid Manning showed rare emotion while denying the allegations. “I have never done what I’ve been accused of doing,” he told reporters. “I’m more angry than anything. I’ve done nothing wrong and I’m still being attacked.”
In February, the plaintiffs had a photo-matching expert testify that images of four of five helmets did not correspond to what had been sold as game-used items by Manning. At that time, the plaintiffs also pointed to a December deposition from Mara that he knew nothing about the memorabilia-counterfeiting accusations until Insberg filed his lawsuit in 2014, while evidence was introduced indicating that the Giants’ in-house counsel, Bill Heller, had received a letter on the subject as early as 2011.
According to ESPN, DeLuca dismissed most of the claims Thursday against Skiba, who was accused of doctoring the equipment in question, as well as a helmet purported to be worn by Manning in the 2008 Super Bowl which wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Manning and Steiner Sports, however, are set to defend themselves against fraud claims, as well as accusations of negligent misrepresentation, in front of a jury.
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