YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The so-called ring leader of a phony sports memorabilia scheme is sentenced to six years in prison.
Cliff Panezich was in court Tuesday morning pleading guilty to a number of charges last year, including money laundering and forgery.
When the judge told him how many years he’s going to serve on one of the charges, Panezich closed his eyes. He takes full responsibility for his actions.
“It started as a legitimate business and snow balled into what you see before you,” Panezich said.
Prosecutors say he was the mastermind behind the enterprise that sold sports items with fake athlete signatures to close to 20,000 people.
Panezich opened eBay accounts with people’s information and sold items. Some people had no idea their info was being used until the IRS contacted them.
“The extent of it was — a total enterprise numbers — somewhere between $1.4-$2 million,” said Ralph Rivera, Mahoning County prosecutor.
However, Panezich’s attorney disputes the claim.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Panezich acted as a mastermind or orchestrated the activity of these subordinates,” he said.
Investigators started investigating the case four year and say it came from a traffic stop.
“Thefts of credit cards,” Rivera said. “It just linked up to purchasing large amounts of sports equipment and then, next thing you know, we’re working a major enterprise involving eBay and over a million dollars.”
Daniel Martini also pleaded guilty today, but prosecutors say his role was small. Others in the case also pleaded guilty.