Former Mets clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels, center, is escorted as...

Former Mets clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels, center, is escorted as he arrives for his arraignment at the Queens County Courthouse. (May 11, 2011) Credit: AP

Former Mets clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels was arrested Wednesday on charges of stealing $2.3 million worth of Mets memorabilia, embezzling nearly $25,000 in inflated expense reports and failing to report more than $200,000 in income.

Hired by the Mets in 1976, Samuels, 53, was fired last November "for conduct in violation of club policies," the team said at the time.

The firing came weeks after his name had publicly emerged in a sports gambling investigation by the New York Police Department. The 21-count indictment unsealed Wednesday in Queens Supreme Court includes no gambling charges.

Authorities said the probe led them to other crimes Samuels allegedly committed during his tenure with the Mets, most notably that he had taken hundreds of valuable pieces of equipment -- many of which were signed by star players -- without the team's consent.

Samuels, who lives in Arverne, Queens, surrendered Wednesday morning to detectives with the NYPD's Organized Crime Investigation Division. He was released on $75,000 bond and faces as much as 25 years in jail, if convicted.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Samuels had been storing the memorabilia in the basement of a friend's house in Madison, Conn., "for his retirement."

Brown said during a news conference in the district attorney's office that authorities recovered 1,673 items, including 507 jerseys, 304 hats, 828 baseballs, 22 helmets, 10 equipment bags and two storage boxes.

Two such items were on display: a special Mets jersey commemorating 9/11 signed by team members and a 1986 practice jersey also signed by players. Brown said both jerseys were appraised at $7,500 each.

"This is a case of the equipment manager leading the National League in steals," police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Samuels did not respond to questions at the courthouse. His attorney, Michael Bachner, said Samuels was "authorized by the Mets" to keep the memorabilia and that he had gotten select items signed by Mets players on his own.

"We believe at the end of the day that Charlie Samuels will be vindicated," Bachner said. "This indictment barely made it to first base. It's never coming home."

The Mets said in a statement: "We cooperated fully with the NYPD and the Queens district attorney's office in their lengthy and thorough criminal investigation."

Samuels, whose next court appearance is June 17, also is accused of regularly inflating the umpires' meal selections on expense reports submitted to the Mets' assistant general manager and then pocketing an additional $24,995 in reimbursements through this practice between 2007 and 2010.

In addition, Samuels was charged with failing to report $203,789 in tips from players on his 2008 and 2009 tax returns, and underreporting gross income by his corporation, Chazmule Inc., by $87,859 in 2008 and $103,450 in 2009.

"He had probably one of the best jobs that any sports enthusiast would want, and he threw it all away," Brown said. "He had a dream job any baseball fan would die for and he blew it."

With Anthony Rieber