Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Baseball bat seller charged with theft

Middletown man indicted for online fraud

By Michael D. Clark mclark@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN - Police have charged a local baseball paraphernalia dealer with theft after a collector from Texas cried foul.

        The Texas man told authorities he spent about $1,700 after bidding on the popular Internet auction site eBay for bats used by baseball stars Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neill, but never received the bats.

        Last week, a Butler County grand jury indicted Justin L. Manning, 24,of the 2000 block of Aaron Drive, with one felony count each of theft and telecommunications fraud in what Middletown police say is their first case of Internet fraud involving sports collectibles.

        The telecommunications fraud charge stems from another complaint from a Florida man who told Middletown police that he sent Mr. Manning $500 to purchase a used major league bat that he never received. No other information was available Monday on that missing bat.

        Mr. Manning's attorney, James Smith, declined to comment on the case and said he has instructed his client not to comment. Mr. Manning, who is free on bond, is scheduled for an arraignment before Butler County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Oney Oct. 14.

        Middletown Police Detective Rich Bush said he was contacted by Texas attorney Tim Leahy in late May regarding his concerns about not hearing from Mr. Manning after purchasing three supposedly game-used bats of the baseball stars. Mr. Leahy told police he had sent a money order for about $1,700, but then received a series of excuses from Mr. Manning about delays in shipping the bats. Later, he told police, he could no longer contact Mr. Manning through e-mail.

        Detective Bush said Mr. Manning cashed the money order shortly after receiving it from Mr. Leahy. Later, he and a police officer interviewed Mr. Manning at his home and did see a number of bats, but that he had no way of gauging their authenticity.

        “He said to me that he hadn't sent the bats yet,” said Mr. Bush.

        Kevin Pursglove, a spokesman for the San Jose, Calif.-based eBay, said the company would not comment specifically on Mr. Manning's case but that the Internet auction site takes “a pretty hard stance on fraud and we think we catch a lot of them.”

        But he added that “there is no system in the online world or off-line world that catches everybody.”

        To help guard against fraud, eBay members are encouraged to register any complaints about sellers or buyers on a forum page so that prospective customers can check out the reputations of those with whom they are dealing with.


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