Jerseygate’s Criminal Implications

On March 26, 2017, in Uncategorized, by Matthew Weiss

By: Rohan Mohanty*

News broke shortly after the New England Patriots’ unprecedented comeback in Super Bowl LI that Tom Brady’s game-worn jersey was missing. In a video released by the NFL, Brady is seen telling team owner Robert Kraft that “someone stole [his] jersey,” with Kraft responding, “Well, you better look online!”[1] The jokes quickly turned serious as Brady reiterated the next morning at his Super Bowl MVP press conference that he still hadn’t found the jersey.

On Monday, March 20th, about seven weeks after Super Bowl LI, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported that the FBI and NFL Security believed they had located Brady’s missing jersey.[2] Brady’s jersey from Super Bowl LI, along with his jersey from Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks, and Von Miller’s helmet from Super Bowl 50, were located in Mexico, in possession of Mauricio Ortega, the former director of the Mexican newspaper, La Prensa.[3]

Despite Ortega’s alleged actions, it now seems that he may avoid criminal sanctions. According to the Associated Press,

A Mexican government official confirmed that the warrant targeted Ortega   and the search was at his home. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, the official said an agreement was reached for an unspecified victim in the U.S. not to press charges in exchange for the jersey’s return.[4]

The issue of who the aforementioned “unspecified victim” is presents an intriguing question as to who is precluded from pressing charges against Ortega. At first, it seems as though the answer is Brady. But then what about Von Miller and even possibly the NFL? Could they still seek to press charges? The question remains unanswered at this time.

In the legal context, it is interesting to consider what criminal charges Ortega has presumably escaped. Ortega’s alleged systemic acts of theft present a significant issue for him with regards to the value of the good stolen and the international transportation of said goods. Because the three Super Bowls in question were all held in different states, Ortega could be subject to charges in Texas, Arizona, and California and have federal charges brought against him as well.

In all three states, the pivotal issue for Ortega would be the value of the goods stolen. In Texas for example, theft evolves from a misdemeanor to a felony if the value of the good stolen exceeds $2,500.[5] According to Rich Mueller, editor of Sports Collectors Daily, the jersey could’ve been worth over $400,000 on the open market.[6] Given this valuation, Ortega could potentially have been charged with a first degree felony, punishable from five to ninety-nine years in prison.[7] Similar statutes exist in both Arizona and California as well.

The issue of whether Ortega could be charged with a felony contributes to the question of whether Ortega could be charged with any further crimes such as burglary. The relevant parts of the Texas burglary statute mention that a burglary is committed when a person enters a building or part of a building, without consent, to perform a theft or felony.[8] Ortega was credentialed to be in NRG Stadium the night of the Super Bowl, however, he was not supposed to be in the Patriots locker room during the time he was there according to security video provided by Fox Sports.[9] In addition, the state would have to prove that he entered the Patriots locker room with the intent to commit a felony or theft. Ortega’s actions in Fox’s video, along with his alleged past history of theft committed at sporting events, would provide a compelling case for the state against Ortega.

The international component of this story also adds an intriguing layer to an already bizarre story. The recovery of the jersey in Mexico as well as the FBI’s involvement in the case suggest the heist contains interstate issues.[10] Under this presumption, there could potentially be Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges against Ortega if it is found that he acted as part of a criminal enterprise,[11] which is defined as “any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity.”[12]

While potential charges in the Brady jersey thief present an interesting discussion, it may be a moot point if the Associated Press is in fact correct about the deal struck between Mexico and the US. Ortega was the former director of a highly respected media publication in Mexico and the alleged deal between Mexican and US officials signifies an attempt to nip this story in the bud before it becomes a bigger deal than it already is. Brady expressed thanks to the law enforcement officials that helped with the investigation and indicated he was satisfied with the outcome.[13] The NFL will undoubtedly face questions about their security procedures at big events such as at the Super Bowl and it will be interesting to monitor if any similar cases across sports leagues become an issue.


*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2019, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

[1] See Joseph Zucker, Tom Brady’s Super Bowl 51 Jersey Goes Missing After Patriots Win vs. Falcons, Bleacher Report (Feb. 6, 2017), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2691440-tom-bradys-super-bowl-51-jersey-goes-missing-after-patriots-win-vs-falcons.

[2] See Andre Vergara, Exclusive: Jay Glazer Reveals More Video Showing How Tom Brady’s Jersey Was Stolen, Fox Sports (March 21, 2017), http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/fox-sports-jay-glazer-tom-brady-super-bowl-jersey-stolen-video-martin-mauricio-ortega-la-prensa-the-herd-colin-cowherd-032117.

[3] Id.

[4] See Mike Florio, Has Ortega Avoided Prosecution for Super Bowl Jersey Theft(s)?, Pro Football Talk (March 22, 2017), http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2017/03/22/has-ortega-avoided-prosecution-for-super-bowl-jersey-thefts/.

[5] Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 31.03 (West, 2015).

[6] See Brad Tuttle, Tom Brady’s “Stolen” Super Bowl Jersey is Probably the Most Valuable Collectable Ever, Time (Feb. 6, 2017), http://time.com/money/4661084/tom-brady-2017-super-bowl-jersey-stolen-value/.

[7] Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 31.03.

[8] Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 30.02 (West, 2015).

[9] See Vergara, supra note 2.

[10] See Michael McCann, Tom Brady’s Super Bowl Jersey Has Been Reportedly Found, but Legal Implication Remain, Sports Illustrated (March 20, 2017), http://www.si.com/nfl/2017/03/20/tom-brady-super-bowl-jersey-found-legal-action.

[11]  See id.

[12] 18 U.S.C. § 1961 (2012).

[13] See Timothy Rapp, Tom Brady Issues Statement on Recovery of Missing Super Bowl 51 Jersey, Bleacher Report (March 20, 2017), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2699095-tom-brady-issues-statement-on-recovery-of-missing-super-bowl-51-jersey.

 

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