Giants quarterback Eli Manning is listed as the star witness in a civil court case scheduled to begin this week in New Jersey that accuses the star quarterback of being involved in a scheme to fraudulently market and sell Giants helmets as his “game-used” memorabilia.
A last-minute settlement to avoid a trial exposing Manning to testifying on the witness stand remains a possibility.
The Giants and sports collectibles company Steiner Sports, which has long sold Manning’s game-used paraphernalia, also are listed as defendants in the 4-year-old memorabilia fraud lawsuit.
The Giants are accused of not doing anything when first told of fraudulent Manning memorabilia making its way to Steiner years ago. The witness list also includes Giants co-owner John Mara and Brandon Steiner, the CEO of Steiner Sports.
The lawsuit was filed in January 2014 by sports memorabilia entrepreneur Eric Inselberg and has since been amended to include collectors Michael Jakab and Sean Godown.
Attorneys for Manning, the Giants, Steiner Sports and the three memorabilia collectors who filed the lawsuit either declined to comment or did not return messages seeking comment.
Manning has said he’s done nothing wrong. It will be up to the jury to decide what he meant when he emailed a Giants equipment manager in 2010 asking for two helmets that “can pass as game-used.”
Manning’s contract with Steiner calls for him to provide two game-used helmets to sell to the public, according to court documents.
Manning testified during his deposition in August 2017 that he wasn’t asking for fake helmets when he wrote that email.
Instead, according to a transcript of the deposition obtained by Newsday, Manning said that using the phrase “pass as” was his way of requesting his game-used helmets in writing.
“I believe I am asking for two game-used helmets,” he said. “I believe I’m asking for two helmets that can satisfy as being game-used — satisfy the requirement of being game-used.”
Steiner testified in his deposition, portions of which also were obtained by Newsday, that Manning denied the accusations to him and that he believes Manning.
New Jersey lawyers not involved with this case say Manning faces an uphill battle in court because New Jersey has one of the strictest consumer fraud acts in the country — far tougher than New York’s, for example.
Michael Horn, a Hackensack-based attorney, said convincing a jury that Manning violated the state’s consumer-friendly fraud act “should be a slam dunk” because attorneys have to prove only that Manning was a part of the scheme.
“The jury is usually instructed to use their own common sense in evaluating the evidence,” Horn said.
Manning’s attorneys said in recent court filings that he couldn’t have committed consumer fraud because he is “not a professional seller.” They said his Steiner contract compensates him only for his autographs and that he provided his game-used helmets to Steiner “for no specific compensation.”
A New Jersey attorney, Fort Lee-based Arthur Balsamo, said Manning’s best chance of convincing a jury he did nothing wrong could be with his own words on the witness stand.
Balsamo said Manning’s history as a believable public figure could go a long way in helping him come across as honest and upstanding to the jury.
“He has that demeanor that could give the impression that something like this would be out of character,” Balsamo said. “I know I find it hard to believe Eli Manning was involved in something like this, but who knows? I’m not the judge or jury on that one.”