Decades Of Stolen Comics Claims Denied By Canada's Universal Distribution

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Universal Distribution is a Canadian comic book distributor of cards, comics, sports and pop culture items that has been around for decades. Canada is also home to Quebecor, a printer for much of the comic book industry and one, for a while at least, was the focus of a series of major thefts of comic books at the time of the industry explosion that, it was alleged, entered the comic book marketplace – retailers and publishers were aware of this situation and talked to Bleeding Cool about it.

But one person, who goes my the name Peter Lee  is joining the two together and trying to launch a class action suit, accusing Universal Distribution of being behind the thefts "thousands of comics every week for decades" and other dodgy behaviour, that fuelled the company's success. He has posted a series of posts online that form a narrative – but one that Universal utterly deny, in a statement we run at the bottom of this piece.

Peter Lee writes,

My name is Peter, I represent a group of retail comic book and sports cards collectible shops here in the province of Quebec. We would like to bring to your attention regarding A distributor named UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION which is ran by 3 brothers.
Going back to the year 1988,1989, thousands of cases of Upper Deck hockey, both English and French Versions delivered to Universal Distribution have been tampered with from both the President and Vice President of that company. They would later tamper with your baseball, football and other major sport cards you would print over the years up until today. we are not just talking about a pack of cards, they did it to ALL the cases which we pre-paid months in advance in the thousands of dollars and waiting for the delivery. In the meantime, when the products got delivered to UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION, the "brothers" had a production line going.
They would open each case and every box very carefully. Using a Beckett price guide, they would determine which pack had the valuable card inside by figuring out the sequence the cards were packed. They would later fill the missing packs in the boxes and fill the cases again. They would reseal all the boxes and the cases and make it impossible for anyone to notice that your factory seal was indeed tampered with. They would collect thousands of different valuable cards from your cases that they would later wholesale or retail very privately to other distributors in the US and Canada that they have made contacts with over the years. The retail stores here and across Canada have been scammed and frauded of thousands of their hard earned dollars and have been selling your product to innocent clients in their shops who never had a chance to find even an Eric Lindros Rookie card from a pack that was touched by UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION. Misleading collectors into buying the missing valuable card to complete the set.
They did this with many other Card Companies, including O-Pee-Chee, Priemier series, Topps, Scores, Fleer, and many more….
They also distribute comics for all major publishing companies including Marvel and DC Comics. They would pick up the shipments from Quebecor directly which is based here in Quebec.
Hundreds of Thousands of comic books and graphic novels were stolen from the back shipping doors over the years from UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION. One of the workers in the shipping department at Quebecor was in on it with them. They would hold the comics that are likely to increase in value and later wholesale that comic for a much higher price than the one that is listed on the book itself. This caused sufficient flooding of the market and has hurt the industry. We all pay for their actions!
We have already contacted many companies and we will be starting a class action lawsuit and will file criminal actions against them.
If you have purchased products from this company and feel like you are a victim, join our mission and claim back our losses from this corrupt company.
Thank you for your time,
Peter Lee

Details of how the theft went down,

Once a week, UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION would drive to QUEBECOR which was located a half hour drive or less from them and back up their truck in the first or second door. They would meet up with their QUEBECOR contact who would bring the pallets of COMICS as close to the doors as possible carefully placing the stolen cases within their actual order. We will not reveal the worker's name or photo until the investigation is complete. One of the owners of Universal would drive the truck there and would pay his contact approx. $50 per case in CASH. An average of 20-30 cases per week would make it into that truck and straight to UNIVERSAL'S WAREHOUSE.
When they arrive and unload at their facilities, the other 2 "brothers" would sort out all the books and prepare to pack the retailer's orders for delivery the next morning. Stolen books have been distributed by them throughout Canada and the United States. This went on for years up until this day.

With specific details for both the Death Of Superman and the launch of Image Comics

The RETURN of SUPERMAN !! and also the return for more stolen profits.
Nothing too complicated… They would go pick up their ordered shipment which is waiting for them at the shipping doors. They would then give their contact there a few dollars per case and he would load half a pallet of these books into the truck as a bonus. This went on every week. Thousands over Thousands of the Superman Comics shown below was taken by UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION the night before the release date.
IMAGE COMICS…NEVER A SHORTAGE…
Image Comics also started printing their books at Quebecor during the early 1990s. Titles such as SPAWN, WILDCATS, YOUNGBLOOD, etc…were also the result of Thousands of extra copies being stolen from the shipping doors and straight into UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION'S TRUCK ON A WEEKLY BASIS.
AN ESTIMATE OF OVER 360,000 THOUSAND IMAGE COMIC BOOKS DISAPPEARED FROM QUEBECOR OVER A SPAN OF A FEW YEARS.
PROFIT OVER SUPERMAN'S DEATH !!!
At the time, over 120 known extra cases of the comic shown below, totaling over 18000 copies were stolen from Ronalds Printing ( Quebecor ) the night before its long waited release. With the help of a worker there, who made $20-$50 per case. UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION sold thousands of that book to US retail stores for a wholesale price of $6 US per issue and also gave them a huge advantage on Re-orders over any other Canadian and US distributors. Estimated amount of profit made on that robbery…$108,000.00
not bad for a nights work….

For the launch of Legends Of The Dark Knight,

4 different colors, 4 times the score…approximately 2400 copies of each color was also robbed from Quebecor in the evening hours. Many other issues that followed were also taken by UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION. Just on that comic alone, they would profit around $194,000.00 annually from stolen goods.

And the Todd McFarlane Spider-Man,

SAME ROUTINE…When this book came out, it was yet another big score for UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION. This time, their Quebecor contact was told way in advance for this one. UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION would wait until late evening to go pick up their shipments from Quebecor when all the offices are closed and there was very few workers at the shipping department at those hours. They had all the time in the world to keep loading up that truck. This went on every week, every month…They had large supplies of every Spiderman Comic printed in the early 1990s and up. Anywhere from 8000 – 12000 Thousand Comics were stolen on a weekly basis. Do the math…..

Addressing his old boss at Heroes World, who were bought by Marvel Comics.

message to MR. IVAN S_ _ _ _R former owner of Heroes World Distribution Co., originally named Superhero Enterprises, although you are not in business anymore as like many other Distributors, I would like to bring to your attention about the times UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION would come and pick up their shipments from your warehouse in New Jersey. As the items were being loaded into the truck, one of the brother's from UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION was throwing in at least 3 complete cases of sports cards valuing about $1600 US. It didn't matter what it was…hockey, baseball, football….he would grab it and bring it close to the doors as if he were to buy it, but he would throw it into the truck instead. He made sure that whatever he took was not noticeable to you. He would do this to you every week and every chance he had for the next 3 years. He never left your warehouse empty handed. All the brothers knew about this and even had a backup plan ready in case they were stopped at customs for any reason and those cases were not on the bill. Having them as a client has cost you about $250,000.00 US $ No wonder you are out of business!
We have witnesses with us and if you are able to press criminal charges back there in the USA, we will gladly assist you in any way for you to recover your losses.

13932711_113917962386989_1298859166812771420_nAnd turning the stolen comics into expanding legitimate business opportunities, by using them to set up stores and tie down new accounts to their distribution deals going forward.

What do you do with Hundreds of Thousands of extra copies of just about every comic book and a large variety of graphic novels printed by every Publisher out there, that accumulate every week, every month, year after year, from the Robberies UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION has Mastered when they go pick up their shipments from the Printer ???
ANSWER :
Come up with a business plan where you could offer a turn key operation to anyone wanting to open up a Collectibles Shop. Depending on the budget of the potential new owner, UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION would offer packages of Inventory set up ranging from $10,000.00 to $60,000.00 CAN. You would get everything you need to set up your New Store..posters, displays, supplies for both comics and cards, full alphabetical inventory of almost every Marvel, DC, Image(all of them)…Display Comics (the valuable ones) and Display cards of all sports.
In that mix, there are Thousands $ of STOLEN MERCHANDISE. It's their way of laundering out the excessive STOLEN inventory. Most of that transaction ending on a CASH basis. You are also added as a new client and will receive your weekly new shipments directly to your door. In those weekly shipments of new arrivals, there are stolen comics in the mix as well. Nice way to start your business! The sport cards that you have in your display are the cards that have been tampered out of Its boxes you have on your counter and are selling to the public..
Loyal Distributors that have been in business decades before UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION first opened their doors, have now shut down while UNIVERSAL expanded throughout Canada. 3 "brothers" taking us all for fools.
This is how they have been running the business all those years.Their now abandoned first warehouse is were they originally stored all the stolen items. They are now operating threw their new facility in Montreal.
Happy Anniversary.

And using it to put competitors out of business.

UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION was able to corner a large percentage of the Comic and Sports Cards Industry in the East coast of Canada. With the opening of the TORONTO branch, they were able to put out companies such as MULTIBOOK and ANDROMEDA who never stood a chance with the massive re-order selection and the profit potential UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION would make with all the stolen merchandise. The Toronto location is nothing more than someone working out of a house.

The 2nd location in TORONTO is in GUELPH ONT. once again, someone working out of a house.

The opening of the VANCOUVER branch was even a bigger success as they took over most of the Industry in the WEST coast of Canada. Overstock of STOLEN COMICS and other merchandise accumulated over the years from the MONTREAL location fill the warehouse and is distributed to unaware retailers. I wonder if any of the employees working for UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION are aware of this??

Oh yes, and of card dipping, which seems the least serious charge but probably the one that will rile most up.

One of the owners of UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION would take home a couple of cases of Hockey Cards and tamper with the cases in order to fish out all the valuable cards. Then later sell the tampered cases to the retail stores that had pre-paid in the Thousands of Dollars and waiting for the delivery. Imagine the collector or that kid who goes to buy a pack of cards hoping to get that Rookie Card. NO CHANCE ! He took those cases home because it got late going threw the cases at their Warehouse so he decided to continue a few more at his place where it's more comfortable. He even had one of his employees put the cases in the trunk of his car for him.

It's implications…

It wasn't long after UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION first opened their doors in 1989 that CO-OWNER CHRIS EXARHAKOS figured out a devious plan to tamper with their very first order of UPPER DECK HOCKEY. After several test runs, he was able to select any valuable or future investment rookie card from it's pack by figuring out the sequence the cards were packed. Using a Beckett price guide, he would determine which card he was looking for. He would spend entire days and nights in his office and go threw every pack, every box and every case until he was satisfied with the amount of cards he stole from the cases that have been pre-paid by the RETAIL HOBBY SHOPS way in advance and waiting for their product to be delivered to them. He would reseal the boxes and the cases to perfection. He coached a couple of employees to help him speed up the process and was later able to tamper threw thousands of English and French Versions of UPPER DECK HOCKEY in the years that followed.

UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION had the distribution rights for UPPER DECK in Quebec so the chances of buying a tampered pack, box or a complete case of that product from them was very high. Taking advantage of the huge demand of sports cards those years, UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION was able to profit Thousands over Thousands of $ from STOLEN SPORT CARDS from the tampered cases.

Retailers who have bought this product from UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION is entitled to a full refund plus damages rendered to them. UPPER DECK has been notified of UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION'S CRIMINAL activities and we hope that they put an end to this or they will be just as responsible now that they know about UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION'S DARK SECRET.

And tax fraud.

From the very beginning of UNIVERSAL DISTRIBUTION, they would pick up their shipments from a New Jersey Distributor named " HERO'S WORLD DISTRIBUTION " and they would cross the Canadian / US Customs Border every week with trailers full of comics, cards, collectible toys, and supplies….about one year into the business, one of the owners of UNIVERSAL,who also has an accounting degree decided to devalue the cost of the Ultra-Pro card sleeves in order to pay less DUTY and TAXES on the product, resulting in higher profits when sold to the consumer. They would bring in truck loads of Ultra-Pro cases per week and save thousands of dollars in undeclared Taxes and Duties on the product. He saw the potential in the profits from scamming the Canadian Government and decided to do the same with many more products after that. He falsified all the billing receipts which were sent to the border prior to the trucks arrival and got away with it for almost 4 years. Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars were frauded from Revenue Quebec until 1992 when the RCMP and Canadian Customs Agents Stormed into their warehouse located in Quebec and seized just about everything in there including the trucks that were stopped at the border. They were charged with over 100 counts of FRAUD and Tax Invasion with heavy fines. Criminal charges were laid but they paid their way out of any jail time. They made a few changes within the company and registered different names and continued to operate. After that time, comics already started getting printed at Quebecor which gave them an opportunity to profit threw stolen comic books.

He got the idea to devalue the Ultra-Pro sheets when a sub-distributor in the downtown Montreal area started to carry this product and sold hundreds of cases per week at a discounted price. Universal could not compete by lowering their price because of the overhead in transportation costs and figured out a way to cut the cost of the Duties and Taxes in witch they paid. This lowered their cost drastically and was able to sell the product at the sub-distributor's cost and eventually force him out of business. Why would you trust this company with your products??

 

In response to all this, which has been spread everywhere from Facebook to Twitter to a new response to a 2008 story on Comics Beat (really getting it out there, guys), Universal has issued the following statement denying, basically, everything.

It has come to our attention that an individual is attempting to scam unsuspecting consumers by alleging he is representing a group of retailers in a class action lawsuit against us, Universal Distribution, and asking for funds.
Let us state emphatically: There is no class action lawsuit of any kind against us. Please do not give this individual any money!
 
The individual has set up fake Facebook and Twitter accounts page under the name 'Peter Lee', as well as posting classifieds on Kijiji claiming a class action lawsuit and has sent e-mails to potential victims. His claims are completely fabricated.
We have contacted the authorities and an investigation is underway both locally, at Facebook and Kijiji.
We appreciate your understanding and if you have any information that may assist in this matter, we would be grateful.
Best Regards,
Angelo

It may be worth noting that "Peter Lee" is talking about arranging a class action suit, not actually having launched one yet. He has also not asked for money and he has told me that he is not planning to. And while he won't give me details about himself, and seemed to claim his name was a pseudonym, he states he did work for Heroes World Distribution and ran a comic book store.

Retailers I have talked to confirm Universal as a professional, reliable distribution operation and no one else seems willing to enter into such a class action suit without knowing a lot more, especially who exactly this "Peter Lee" is.

We look forward to seeing how this rolls out over the week to come. Or if it is never heard from again.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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