Tom Brady finally received his recovered Super Bowl jersey at the end of March. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)
The man who stole Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey will likely never spend one day in jail. Meaning, he’s probably going to get away with the crime.
Journalists Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas published a long-form article on the MMQB Tuesday detailing the FBI investigation into Brady’s missing jersey. According to the piece, it took law-enforcement less than two weeks to identify the culprit, Mexican newspaper director Mauricio Ortega. Officials in Mexico City were surprised the NFL allowed Ortega to obtain a press credential, considering his paper, La Prensa, is a poorly respected tabloid.
As it turns out, recognizing Ortega was the easy part, thanks to extensive locker room videotape and a tip from a Patriots fan who bought an item from him on eBay. Ortega sent Dylan Wagner, the 19-year-old Boston-born informant, a photograph of his memorabilia collection in December. In it, Brady’s missing jersey from Super Bowl XLIX was prominently featured. In addition to Brady’s uniform tops from Super Bowls XLIX and LI, Ortega also acquired Von Miller’s helmet from Super Bowl 50.
Though U.S. authorities first flew to Mexico Feb. 21, officials didn’t seek to reclaim the jerseys until mid-March. An anonymous U.S. investigator told the MMQB it was challenging to navigate the increasingly divisive political climate between the two nations.
“We had [Ortega] identified –– that wasn’t the point,” the investigator said. “It was now the point of walking that political minefield as delicately as we could to appease everybody. We didn’t want to upset the Mexican authorities, we didn’t want to upset the Mexican people, we didn’t want to upset the U.S. embassy.”
Finally, on March 12, Mexican law-enforcement officials approached Ortega’s residence with a search warrant, which they didn’t execute. Instead, they asked him to hand over the stolen property. When he complied, they left.
In Mexico, the minimum penalty for theft of an item worth more than 35,000 pesos ($1,800 U.S.) is four years in prison. But even though Brady’s Super Bowl jersey is worth a lot of money in the U.S. –– the Houston Police Department says it’s valued at $500,000 –– that isn’t necessarily the case below the border. Samuel González, the former head of the organized crime unit in Mexico’s federal prosecutors office, says Ortega’s attorney should insist the value of the jersey in Mexico is merely $200 –– far below the threshold for mandated prison time. It would be difficult to prove otherwise.
Further complicating matters, only those charged with serious crimes, such as murder or drug dealing, are extradited from Mexico to the U.S. Jersey theft doesn’t appear to make the list.
Ortega will almost certainly never be allowed to enter an NFL locker room again. But barring unforeseen circumstances, he won’t pay a legal price for his Super Bowl heists.