Michael Jordan Jersey Scam: Did Fraudsters Create Fake Foundation Under Dead Photographer’s Name To Inflate Its Value?

Michael Jordan Jersey Scam: Did Fraudsters Create Fake Foundation Under Dead Photographer’s Name To Inflate Its Value? article feature image
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Picture by Getty Images.

A Michael Jordan game-used jersey may be the center of an elaborate scam in which fraudsters created a fake foundation in a dead photographer's name in order to get the collectible falsely authenticated, the Action Network has learned.

The Tony Ranze Foundation was indispensable in providing the research material used in the authentication of the jersey, which if legitimate, could have boosted its value from its sale price of nearly $27,000 to more than a million dollars, sources said.

But the Tony Ranze Foundation isn't real and was created by someone unaffiliated with the family, the man's son told the Action Network. Ranze had been the director of photography for the Lakeland Ledger with photo credits in AFP and Getty.

“I was my father’s executor, power of attorney, everything,” said Tony’s son Nic, now 41. “I sat in on all meetings he had financially and legally the last couple years and often was the primary care giver as we took him to Little Rock, Ark. for treatments. There is absolutely no way he wouldn’t have told me about [a foundation in his name]."

Not only does the Ranze family say the foundation has nothing to do with their father — who died in 2006 after a four-year battle with multiple myeloma — an Action Network investigation found that the Tony Ranze Foundation website was created in July 2023. That's 17 years after Ranze's death — after the sale of the jersey and before efforts were made by the Foundation to boost the jersey's value.

After the Jordan jersey — which was listed by Grey Flannel Auctions and represented as game-used but without a photomatch to any specific game — sold for nearly $27K, a person who identified himself as a representative of the new jersey owner endeavored to authenticate the jersey by presenting it to MeiGray, the leading authority on photomatching across the collectibles industry.

Photomatching is a method used by authenticators to confirm the veracity of a collectible by matching imperfections found in archival videos or photos.

This representative claimed they had new, never-before-seen photos from the Tony Ranze Foundation that proved the jersey matches to Games 3 and 4 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. They said they purchased the photos directly from the Tony Ranze Foundation.

MeiGray officials received the photographs — but not the actual slides themselves. Using only those photos sent by the Tony Ranze Foundation, MeiGray certified the jersey earlier this month, dating it to the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals.

No jersey from Jordan's playoff run that season had ever hit the market. If true, that could make this $27,000 collectible worth about 40 times more.

Presented with the Action Network's reporting, things have now changed. MeiGray walked back their certificate of authenticity on Thursday.

“We have concerns regarding the authenticity of the photographs that were provided to us,” said MeiGray’s Barry Meisel. “We are currently doing further research on those images. In the meantime, we have frozen our letter of authentication and have reached out to the buyer to inform him of that change.”

Typically, photomatches are done with existing high resolution photos. Many of the photos are publicly available or AP or Getty feeds. Occasionally, collectors find photos that are not published, so the foundation's assertions weren't necessarily suspect on its own.

Still, immediately after MeiGray's authentication earlier this month, collectors across the space cried foul. Some noticed major discrepancies between the photos the foundation sent in and Getty photos from Games 3 and 4 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals.

One collector in particular published a detailed video on YouTube that indicated the front and back of the jersey sold didn't look like the front and back of the jersey that MeiGray matched based on screengrabs of the video from the game broadcast. That same collector posted a video on Wednesday alleging the photos were photoshopped so that the jersey bought matched the jersey in the Ranze photos.

Picture by Getty Images:

Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

Pictures sent by Tony Ranze Foundation to MeiGray:

When asked, a representative from Tony Ranze Foundation who identified herself as “Brittany” told the Action Network in an email that the photos were authentic and dated correctly because Ranze kept clear records of all the photographs he ever took.

Nic Ranze said nothing could be further from the truth — that his father certainly didn’t have an archive and was definitely not organized.

“Brittany” denied offers to speak over the phone. A lawyer they said represented the foundation had a website that didn't exist.

It's unclear whether the buyer of the jersey and the representatives from the Tony Ranze Foundation are connected. Neither Meisel nor Grey Flannel were willing to give up the buyer’s identity.

The Tony Ranze Foundation's website purports to "sustain, expand, and protect the legacy of Tony Ranze, his art, and his ideals. The Foundation supports not-for-profit organizations that assist children, as well as organizations involved in education, prevention, and care related to cancer.”

“His only philanthropy was his damn kids,” Nic said. “Joe and Kaitlyn were in high school and his only concern was getting them to adulthood and off into life OK.”

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