Guilty: The conmen who made a fortune selling sports fans fake autographs of Ronaldo, Gerrard and Owen

on Mittwoch, 02 April 2008. Posted in Autograph forgeries

Two businessmen accused of ripping off their customers by forging and selling sports stars' signatures were today found guilty.

Faisal Madani, 43, and Graeme Walker, 45, were convicted after a five-week trial which heard from star prosecution witnesses Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Ian Rush as well as evidence from Jonny Wilkinson. 

The pair already have convictions for dishonesty and trademark offences and now face potential jail terms. Walker was found guilty on 51 of the 53 charges against him, including dishonestly trading by selling faked signatures of Sir Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Gerrard, Wilkinson and others. He was cleared of selling a fraudulent Worthington Cup Final LFC match shirt purporting to be the original match shirt worn by Michael Owen.

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Caught out: Graeme Walker and Faisal Madani swindled thousands of pounds from sports fans

He was also cleared of selling a photograph with a fake signature of Owen. Madani was convicted of 18 of the 20 charges against him including supplying many of the items to Walker. He was cleared of selling a photograph with a fake signature of Gerrard. Both defendants looked to the floor as the guilty verdicts were returned. A reporting restriction around the collapse of the first trial in this case was lifted today.

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Fake: A photograph of Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard with forged autographs of the stars

Andrew Thomas QC, prosecuting, informed the jury that during the first trial Madani was arrested at the court by City of London Police.
He said: "Mr Madani was arrested in relation to the alleged use of fraudulently obtained credit cards.
"No charges have been brought as the investigation is still ongoing."
Madani, of Bramhall, Cheshire, was remanded in custody until sentencing tomorrow.
Walker, of Connah's Quay, Flintshire, made no comment as he left the court, although his wife hurled abuse at Madani's wife.
In the lobby of the court, a tearful Mrs Walker shouted towards Mrs Madani: "I hope you're happy, Sharon. You took all that money off us."

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Forged: An England rugby shirt the conmen claimed had been signed by Jonny Wilkinson

Walker and Madani had claimed hundreds of autographs of Premiership stars including Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, and David Beckham, were genuine - albeit sourced by "shady" means.
They said club workers supplied the memorabilia, paid for with "cash in brown envelopes" and some players took part in signing sessions as "payment in kind" for luxurious holidays abroad.
But Madani, an international businessman nicknamed Mr Dubai, and his associate Walker faced ruin today after they were convicted of of supplying and selling the forgeries.
Star witnesses in the case were Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, who appeared in the witness box to give evidence for the prosecution.
The jury also heard from England rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson - who cast aside threats made by Walker in an email to his management company - to challenge their right to rip off his fans.

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Phoney: The pair forged Ronaldo's signature

From his modest house in Stockport, Greater Manchester, Madani, 43, built a career based on flattery and deceit.The court heard he worked his way into dressing rooms and players' lounges offering luxurious holidays to Dubai and, to those outside of football who he wanted to impress, he passed himself off as the brother of ex-Manchester United director Armer Mouffac Al Midani.

Madani claimed he supplied auction websites and other shops selling sporting memorabilia across the world.

He was also the "primary supplier" of merchandise to the Sporting Icons store, owned by Walker.
The trial heard that while many of the autographed items were undoubtedly genuine, hundreds were faked.
In one Trading Standards raid, 1,000 items were seized and around 20% were found to be faked.
Exactly how many items were cynically forged by Walker and Madani before being sold to unsuspecting fans may never be known.
Walker, an electrician by trade and a counterfeiter by choice, once ran a factory which produced fake Calvin Klein perfume.
After Trading Standards shut down the operation in 1999, Walker turned to sport for his creative talents.
From its respectable store in Chester's Victorian shopping rows, Sporting Icons offered a treasure trove of collectables and gifts - tapping in on a boom industry worth millions of pounds a year.
In 2005 the business had a turnover of £190,000. The jury were told that Sporting Icons sold not just sporting memorabilia.
In photographs of the shop and print-outs of the website they saw framed autographs and pictures of Hollywood legends Laurel and Hardy, Mae West and Rock Hudson, Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa and real-life boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
Musical stars whose autographs and pictures were on sale included the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Queen and Nat King Cole.

The pair claimed the forged goods seized by Trading Standards and shown to the jury were bought in good faith.
But in a storeroom at the shop, and at Walker's home, lay the tools of the fraudulent trade - scores of examples of genuine signatures and scraps of paper showing Walker's hapless attempts to copy the signatures.
Canny Sporting Icons customers, including members of the David Beckham fanclub and the father of Jonny Wilkinson, spotted the imitations and raised their concerns with Trading Standards.
And witness by witness, including Owen, Gerrard and Wilkinson, stepped forward to expose the truth.

As their defence collapsed under the sheer weight of the prosecution evidence, the jury saw hundreds of examples of their fake goods, the duo turned on each other, Walker saying he bought the fraudulent items from Madani in good faith and Madani claiming the cheating took place at his business partner's end of the chain.

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