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Eli Manning vows to fight fraud lawsuit against him, Giants

Eli Manning looks on as he walks back

Eli Manning looks on as he walks back to the bench after throwing his fourth interception against the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium. (Dec. 15, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Thursday vowed to fight a lawsuit that claims he passed off his unused football helmets and jerseys to be marketed and sold as game-used by an outside memorabilia company.

The civil suit, filed this week in New Jersey Superior Court by former sports memorabilia entrepreneur Eric Inselberg, 42, also accuses the Giants of pressuring locker room equipment managers to lie under oath during a grand jury investigation about the amount of Giants memorabilia they provided Inselberg over the years.

Manning, in a statement released Thursday afternoon by the team, said, "The Giants told me this suit is completely without merit and I have no reason to believe otherwise. The Giants are going to fight it and so will I."

The Giants also said in a statement they planned to "vigorously" defend themselves.

The federal probe into Inselberg's practice of selling Giants equipment four years ago resulted in a four-count indictment of mail fraud against Inselberg in 2011.

In 2013, prosecutors requested that a federal judge dismiss the indictment against Inselberg "in light of some new facts that were pointed out by defense counsel," according to a court transcript attached as evidence to the lawsuit.

Inselberg's lawsuit says that the new information that sparked prosecutors to drop the case was evidence that three Giants equipment employees -- as well as the owner of the uniform cleaner used by the team -- had lied under oath about their dealings with Inselberg.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the specific reason why the indictment against Inselberg was dismissed or if there is an active investigation related to the accusations included in Inselberg's lawsuit.

The lawsuit said Manning "has on several occasions directed [equipment manager Joe] Skiba to take non-game-worn helmets and make them appear to have been worn so that Manning could pass them off as the actual helmets worn by him during games."

Steiner Sports has received "numerous complaints" about the helmets, according to the lawsuit, with customers allegedly saying that the markings on Manning's game-used helmets did not match those on helmets Manning is pictured to have worn during games.

Brandon Steiner, chief executive of Steiner Sports Marketing, did not return a message seeking comment.

Inselberg also accuses the Giants of knowingly giving the Pro Football Hall of Fame a different helmet than the one the quarterback wore during their Super Bowl XLII victory. Inselberg said he acquired the real game-used Manning helmet a month after the game. A spokesman for the Hall of Fame did not return a message seeking comment.

The accusations come as Eli's brother Peyton is days from playing in Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Peyton Manning declined to comment about the lawsuit yesterday.

Their father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, said the news of the lawsuit came as "a bombshell" to Eli.

Earlier, appearing on Fox's "Good Day New York," Archie said: "Memorabilia has always been a little bit out of control, a lot of fraud there . . . I just know about the Giants organization, what they've been like for a long, long time, and we tried to teach our children to do the right thing . . . I don't think Eli or any of the Giants has purposely did anything wrong."

The Giants, meanwhile, rushed to the defense of their franchise quarterback.

"The allegations against Eli are allegations," Giants treasurer Jonathan Tisch said on WFAN's "Boomer & Carton" show.

Inselberg's lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to make up for his loss of income, reputation and personal welfare after the indictment. He has suffered from depression and experienced suicidal thoughts, according to the lawsuit.

In a statement, Inselberg's lawyers -- Brian Brook of Manhattan-based Clinton, Brook & Peed and Red Bank, N.J.-based Michael Kasanoff -- said he "is simply trying to hold those individuals accountable for their actions and the harm that it has caused to him in being falsely accused in a federal indictment."

With Mark Herrmann

and Tom Rock

New York Sports