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OT: Favre Tips Feds On Bogus Merchandise
Favre memorabilia seized from store
QB says he's aiding probe into forged autographs
By Andy Nelesen
firstname.lastname@example.org January 21, 2006
State Department of Justice agents, acting on tips from Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, on Friday raided an Ashwaubenon sports memorabilia store, seizing framed photos, boxes of items and other memorabilia.
Agents wearing bulletproof vests and sidearms were seen carrying large framed photos from All Sports Marketing, 2039 Holmgren Way, about 1:30 p.m. Among the most unique items was a 3-foot-tall Favre statuette that was buckled into the front seat of an agent's car.
State Assistant Attorney General Eric Wilson said the early-afternoon raid was part of an ongoing investigation, but he wouldn't discuss specifics.
"We obtained a warrant from the circuit court of Brown County to execute a search at (All Sports Marketing)," Wilson said. "It's an ongoing investigation and we don't have any further comment."
David Thomason, who manages Favre's autographed memorabilia sales and is involved in the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation, said the Department of Justice is investigating the shop for selling forged Favre autographs with faked authenticity documents.
"We don't know if it was a $100,000 operation or a $300,000 operation. We really don't know."All Sports Marketing is owned by Michael "Whitey" Van Lanen, said Carol Johnson, who co-owns the building with her husband, James.
Calls to All Sports Marketing were not answered Friday and no residential listing was available for Van Lanen in Brown County.
Agents were seen visiting at least one other Ashwaubenon business, but Wilson said only the All Sports shop was named in a search warrant.
"Favre has met with the Department of Justice and has been very pleased with the investigation," Thomason said in an exclusive interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette late Friday.
Thomason said Favre met with agents the Tuesday after the Packers' Monday night loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 21.
"Favre has assisted them in the investigation," he said. "If they need Brett's assistance, he'll give it to them."
Gregg Auby, whose Sun Prairie law firm works for Thomason, issued the following statement Friday afternoon.
"Attorney Kevin Laffey and I have been advising Brett Favre and his representatives since this matter came to our attention. We wholeheartedly endorse this investigation, and we will continue to cooperate with the investigation to the fullest extent."
Packers Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer John Jones said Friday he wasn't aware of the investigation.
"That's news," Jones said. "You'd hate to see any fan taken advantage of."
While there have been other instances of faked autographs in the past, this case made Favre's radar.
"(Favre) took an interest in this, number one, because it was wrong … but also because he pictures the poor kid shoveling snow all winter or mowing the lawn to buy something," Thomason said. "He figures if a kid is going to save his money he should get the real thing."
And Favre was surprised that it might be happening blocks from Lambeau Field, Thomason said. "This is what you'd expect from New York or Los Angeles, but not right in Green Bay."
Thomason said most of the money from Favre's autograph work is funneled into the Fourward Foundation, which contributes to community efforts in Wisconsin and Mississippi.
Questions about the authenticity of the shop's autographs arose in October 2004, Thomason said.
"I had different wholesale customers and retailers calling me and saying they were suspicious of a place on Holmgren Way.
"I had received a couple of phone calls about the merchandise he was carrying … about the authenticity of it … whether it was really signed by Favre."
Thomason said he handled the reports as he had past reports. He paid a visit to the store.
"I personally went on over there … and I confronted (Van Lanen) when I saw some bad things in there … photocopies of Favre's autograph," Thomason said. "I confronted him and told him we'd been made aware of this, pull 'em off the shelf and we didn't want to ever see it again.
"We didn't threaten him with a lawsuit; we didn't threaten criminal prosecution. We just said 'Knock it off.'"
When reports of fakes continued to roll in, Thomason hired a private investigator, who found numerous items in the store that he said were deemed counterfeit.
Thomason said problems were found with the hologram stickers attached to the photos and with the certificates of authenticity attached to the items.
"What we believe he was doing was making reproductions and then taking a Sharpie over Brett's signature that was already on the picture from the photocopy or the high-resolution (image)," Thomason said.
"We were able to tell because every picture was signed in exactly the same spot and Brett never signs a picture exactly in the same spot on every picture."
Thomason said autographs on mini-helmets or footballs were significantly different than autographs on photos or prints, which made them immediately suspect.
"That's where things went horribly wrong," he said.
The scale of the case is difficult to ascertain. Department of Justice investigators are being tight-lipped, both with the media and Favre's camp.
"We honestly don't know … it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars," Thomason said. "Because we believe that hundreds of items have been photocopied or printed, with pretty good quality, it could be quite extensive and we're waiting to find out just how bad the situation was."
Thomason said he has been in regular contact with Favre about the case.
"We were surprised at how extensive it was," Thomason said. "This is the largest case that I've ever seen."
More information is expected to become public next week, when investigators will have to return the warrant served on All Sports Marketing.
Under usual practices, the warrant, which should include details of why the agents searched the property, should be returned to the Brown County Clerk of Courts office after being executed. Because of the weekend, the warrant is expected to be returned Monday.
The warrant should include a list of items seized from the store and an affidavit detailing investigators' need for the warrant.
Efforts to reach Favre for comment late Friday were unsuccessful.