Defendant extradited in big sports fraud case


By Peter H. Milliken

milliken@vindy.com

AUSTINTOWN

A former minor-league baseball player made his initial appearance Wednesday in area court here in a sports memorabilia fraud case the prosecutor describes as the largest domestic-fraud case in eBay’s history.

Clifton Panezich, 30, a catcher and third baseman who played for the Sussex (N.J.) Skyhawks and White Sands (N.M.) Pupfish, is jailed under $100,000 bond after having been extradited from Henderson, Nev., where he was arrested late last year in this case.

“He would not waive extradition, and we had to get a governor’s warrant to transport him back” to Ohio, said Martin P. Desmond, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, explaining the long delay between Panezich’s arrest and court appearance.

Panezich and his mother, Rose Panezich, 61, of London Drive, Austintown, are charged in this case with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Rose Panezich is free on her own recognizance after having been bound over to the county grand jury.

An Ursuline High School graduate, the younger Panezich played baseball for Mercyhurst College in North East, Pa., and Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn.

Some 25,000 customers were defrauded of more than $2 million in the forged professional-athlete autograph scheme on eBay, the online auction site, Desmond said.

Several other defendants in this case, which involved autographed balls and pictures, have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

Daniel Martini, 29, of Girard, owner of The Federal bar in downtown Youngstown, pleaded guilty to money laundering.

James Serenko, 33, of Austintown; Jason Lenzi, 31, of Columbiana; and Shawn Pelo, 26, of Warren pleaded guilty to engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

For at least three years, Canfield police and the FBI have been investigating the fraud ring, which has operated for at least five years, Desmond said.

The forgeries of professional athletes’ autographs were of high quality, and most people wouldn’t recognize their lack of authenticity, Desmond said.

Citing grand-jury secrecy, Desmond would not say whether the Panezich cases would be presented to the grand jury today.

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