A FORMER Pompey matchday announcer has been given a suspended prison sentence for a string of frauds over fake signed sport and showbiz memorabilia.
Steve Pearson, 51, of Chatsworth Avenue, Cosham, tricked buyers and collectors using his sporting credentials to earn their trust.
Today he was given a suspended sentence by a judge at Portsmouth Crown Court - 14 months in prison suspended for two years - and 200 hours of unpaid work. He had pleaded guilty to 13 counts of fraud and three thefts and also has to pay £2,574 in compensation to his victims.
Pearson sold items bearing the fake signatures of footballing legends Bobby Moore and Diego Maradona, boxing superstar Muhammad Ali and the band Queen.
Michael Shaw, prosecuting, said: ‘He engaged in the wholesale production and sale of counterfeit signed memorabilia of various sorts.
‘He in effect ran a production line producing items and photographs - one would be sold and another one would be created.’
When we confronted Pearson he denied forging signatures, except for Ali’s on a boxing glove, which he said he’d done for a joke. But it was up for sale in his shop for £900Trading standards officer Craig Copland
Trading Standards launched an investigation into two shops he ran in 2011 and 2013 – Emporium in London Road, Widley, and then Hall of Fame, in London Road, Portsmouth.
He also had three eBay accounts and a website, also called Hall of Fame, on which he boasted: ‘We only use reputable dealers and collectors to obtain our memorabilia and give a 100 per cent guarantee that all our items are authentic.’
Investigators believe he made more than £15,000 from duping keen collectors.
Among dodgy items he sold were:
• A 1950s England team photo ‘signed’ by World Cup-winning manager Sir Alf Ramsay, sold for £60
• A photo of Diego Maradona shaking hands with England goalkeeping legend Peter Shilton at the 1986 Mexico World Cup, ‘signed’ by both, sold for £65
• A photo of the England team at Italia 90, ‘signed’ by players, sold for £45
• A Chelsea shirt faked so it appeared to be from the 2013 UEFA Europa League final, ‘signed’ by players, sold for £230
• An electric guitar ‘signed’ by the three surviving members of Queen, sold for £99
• A shirt ‘signed’ by Manchester United legends including Sir Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs, sold for £150
• A framed jacket ‘signed’ by Bobby Moore, sold for £650
Trading standards officer Craig Copland said: ‘We started investigating after a local collector became worried about the authenticity of a photograph, supposedly signed by Sir Alf Ramsay, that her friend had bought from Pearson.
‘She was also suspicious of his activities on eBay.
‘Under a magnifying lens we could see the signature on the photo was a print-out. We started gathering evidence.
‘We tracked Pearson’s activities on eBay. He was a prolific buyer on the site and we were able show some items were purchased using one of his accounts and later sold from another, with famous signatures added.
‘Peter Shilton was very helpful, confirming that his signature had been forged.
‘We showed more than 100 items either sold by Pearson, or in his possession, to Garry King, a professional authenticator of autographs, and he concluded at least 74 per cent of the signatures had been faked.
‘Pearson had no paperwork to show the history of these items and prove they were genuine, nor did he issue receipts.
‘But he did give customers bogus certificates of authenticity that he created himself.
‘To make matters worse he also misrepresented himself as a member of the Universal Autograph Collector’s Club when selling to some collectors.
‘The fact that he’d worked at Fratton Park when Pompey were in the Premiership gave him credence with collectors, because he’d rubbed shoulders with some big names.
‘But a lot of the items had been faked in a ham-fisted way. The Chelsea shirt was badly embroidered and had a badge bought on eBay attached to it. The guitar had the signature of John Deacon, bass-player with Queen, even though he wasn’t an active member at the time.
‘When we confronted Pearson he denied forging signatures, except for Ali’s on a boxing glove, which he said he’d done for a joke. But it was up for sale in his shop for £900.
‘More and more victims came forward as the investigation went on. His method had been to show empathy with people, get their trust, and then just rip them off.
‘Some of them had given him treasured items to sell, because they desperately needed the money, but they never saw a penny.’
Cllr Robert New, the council’s cabinet member for environment and community safety, said: ‘This investigation is a prime example of the skilled, patient work our trading standards team does to stop the public being ripped off.
‘I’m glad Pearson has been dealt with and stopped from cheating more people.’
The council is seeking a compensation order so victims get as much of their money back as possible.