O's worker is caught stealing

Man admits taking stored memorabilia from Camden Yards to sell on Internet

December 14, 2006|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,sun reporter

The lengthy list of pilfered items from storage rooms at Camden Yards reads like an inventory from a baseball memorabilia collector's garage:

A Melvin Mora bobblehead doll: $3. Six Orioles warm-up jackets: $360. Numerous Orioles autograph cards: $1,000.

Baltimore police officers assigned to investigate the crime had trouble listing values for most of the stolen merchandise.

They wrote "value unknown" for the 1969 Giants media guide, for 50 Brian Roberts bookmarks, for 26 used lineup cards and a dugout's worth other items, including two bases used in one of the last games of Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season in 2001.

But the detective investigating the case decided that at least one item - a pass that allowed access to parts of the stadium, including its warehouse - was too valuable to quantify. At the end of the list of an official police report filed in court, he wrote: "Orioles employee ID. PRICELESS."

At $7.25 an hour, Jeremy B. Fefel was paid to run errands at the ballpark during games last season. The former employee, whose job title was "baserunner," also had a budding side business: filching Orioles' memorabilia and auctioning the items on eBay.

Fefel, 23, pleaded guilty this week to stealing hundreds of items, some as trivial as refrigerator magnets that are given away. The haul included 1960s-era media guides, team jerseys, beach towels, floppy hats and fleece jackets.

Some of the items were sold online before the Orioles had a chance to offer them to their fans. Other collectibles were intended to be sold by the team at charity auctions. An Orioles spokesman said he couldn't remember the last time the team had been victimized by such a scheme.

"I don't think we've ever been aware of anything like this," said spokesman Bill Stetka. Referring to the growing online market for sports collectibles, he said, "Of course, we're in a new day and age."

On Tuesday, a Circuit Court judge ordered Fefel to pay $5,000 in restitution to the team and do 50 hours of community service by his sentencing date, which is scheduled for April 3, the day after the Orioles open their season against the Twins in Minnesota. At that point, he would be given probation before judgment and placed on three years of unsupervised probation.

"Obviously, it was a stupid mistake," Fefel said yesterday in a telephone interview, adding that he is to perform his community service with the city's Department of Public Works in a solid waste and recycling facility.

"I've been a lifelong Orioles fan. ... I took advantage of the whole situation," he said. "I'd like to send my deepest apologies to the whole Orioles organization. It was a stupid decision, and I let it get the best of me. I could never apologize enough for it."

Stetka said the organization was disappointed that one of its employees had stolen from it.

"You hire people and you entrust them, you put them in a position where they can learn, and hopefully they want to go somewhere in the sports business," Stetka said. "And then to have someone basically stealing things out from under you - some of the things we lost are going to be very difficult to replace."

A sports memorabilia expert said the growth of online auction sites has helped broaden the market for collectibles. Even obscure or insignificant items that might have never been sold at tag sales or through classified ads are finding eager buyers on the Internet, he said.

"In the old days, the teams didn't really have to worry so much because the stuff wasn't worth anything," said Michael Heffner, president of Lelands, one of the oldest sports memorabilia auction houses in the country, which is based on Long Island, N.Y. "Now there's a tremendous market for it. Everything has a value to someone. There's nothing that's worthless. And with the Internet, it's not hard to find that buyer."

Fefel apparently found buyers for many of the items he took from Camden Yards.

Detective Lt. Jon Foster said his officers worked closely with eBay officials to determine who was behind the online identity of "vedderwood," which Fefel had created to sell on eBay. He also said it was likely that the officer, Jonathan Glazerman, mistakenly classified Fefel's employee ID as "priceless," and instead probably should have described it as having no value because of the actual worth of the material.

The ID's true value lay in its user's ability to traverse much of Camden Yards. Stetka said full- and part-time employees have varying degrees of access to different parts of the stadium, office and warehouses.

Fefel, who said he met Ripken in a movie theater once, said he has been a baseball fan and memorabilia collector for much of his life and started buying and selling baseball cards on the Web site while in high school. He continued trading on eBay through his college years at Salisbury University until he graduated in December 2005 with a degree in marketing.

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