Charlie Samuels indicted in Queens

NEW YORK -- Not long ago, ex-New York Mets clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels greeted ballplayers with a smile and handshake inside the team's clubhouse.

On Wednesday afternoon, Samuels sat stone-faced in Queens Supreme Court, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, fighting charges that paint him as a thief and a fraud.

Samuels was indicted on charges that he criminally possessed nearly $2.3 million worth of game-used memorabilia -- including signed jerseys, bats and baseballs -- that belonged to the Mets organization, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced Wednesday.

Samuels, who was with the team 27 seasons, is also charged with embezzling $24,955 from the Mets by submitting inflated expense claims and failing to report or pay taxes on $203,789 in tips and dues that he received from Mets players and others in 2008 and 2009.

"The defendant had a dream job that any Mets fan would die for -- and he blew it. His greed is alleged to have gotten the better of him," Brown said.

Samuels was arraigned Wednesday afternoon at Queens Supreme Court. His lawyer, Michael Bachner, entered a plea of not guilty to the charges. Samuels is expected back in court on June 17. He was released after posting a $75,000 bail through a bondsman. According to the 21-count indictment Samuels faces, he could spend between 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.

The indictment includes charges of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree, third-degree grand larceny and criminal tax fraud.

Wednesday's indictment was the result of a months-long investigation into Samuels' alleged illegal gambling and pilfering of sports memorabilia from the Mets clubhouse.

The investigation was first revealed in November. Samuels was fired shortly thereafter. Investigators initially focused on allegations that Samuels had been involved in gambling with people who had ties to organized crime.

But the investigation, led by the Queens District Attorney's office and NYPD detectives from the Organized Crime unit, soon extended to Samuels' alleged theft of memorabilia in the Mets clubhouse.

"This is a case of the equipment manager leading the National League in steals," New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement.

Samuels stockpiled 507 signed and unsigned jerseys, 304 hats, 828 bats, 22 batting helmets and 10 equipment bags, Brown said. Officials recovered the collectibles at a friend's basement in Madison, Conn. Prosecutor's allege Samuels accumulated the items to fund his retirement.

Prosecutors did not charge Samuels with selling the memorabilia.

"He was holding onto it as his own private collection so he could one day sell it," Brown said.

Samuels' lawyer claims that the Mets gave Samuels permission to possess the items. Bachner said that Samuels gathered signatures on the items after he obtained them with team permission. He says that the signatures were obtained "in a friendly capacity with players."

The lawyer also said that prosecutors' valuation of the memorabilia was "legally incorrect."

"This indictment barely made it to first base, it's never coming home," Bachner said, adding, "there's no criminal conduct here."

The lawyer disagreed with the prosecution's assertion that Samuels' actions were a betrayal of trust.

"At the end of the day, this is not a betrayal of trust. This is a betrayal of Charlie Samuels," he said.

Samuels, wearing a white shirt and dark pinstriped suit, did not comment as he was whisked away in a white minivan.

The district attorney's office presented a jersey signed by Mets players on the 1986 World Series-winning team and an autographed commemorative jersey from the first game played after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The Mets terminated Charlie Samuels' employment with the organization on Nov. 12, 2010, following an internal investigation in which we discovered improprieties and violations of club policies," the Mets said in a statement. "We cooperated fully with the NYPD and the Queens District Attorney's office in their lengthy and thorough criminal investigation.

"As this is a pending criminal matter, we will have no further comment."

Samuels served as the Mets' equipment manager since 1983 and began his career with the team in 1976. He later added the title of clubhouse manager and secretary to his job description.

When asked about Samuels' relationship with Fred and Jeff Wilpon, who are majority owners of the Mets along with Saul Katz, Bachner declined comment.

"That will all come out at trial," he said.

The Wilpons were hit hard by the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and are conducting a search for a minority owner to purchase a share of the team.

The Wilpons acted swiftly upon learning of Samuels' alleged misdeeds.

Samuels, a 53-year-old resident of Arverne, Queens, was suspended without pay by the team shortly after the investigation was revealed.

Bachner, Samuels' lawyer, says his client is looking forward to challenging the charges that came down on Wednesday.

"He's out. He's happy he's out and now he has a chance finally to stop boxing in the dark," he said.

Ian Begley is a frequent contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.