On Monday, March 20, it was first reported by FOX NFL reporter Jay Glazer, in a series of tweets that began at 7:02 a.m. Central Time, that the jersey worn by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium had been recovered by the FBI and NFL Security. The jersey, which was stolen just moments after the game ended, had been valued at $500,000 by the Houston Police Department.
As it turned out, the thief was an actual prominent member of the Mexican media named Martin Mauricio Ortega, and he had not only made off with Brady’s Super Bowl 51 jersey, but as it turns out, he had also stolen Brady’s Super Bowl 49 jersey after that game in Glendale, AZ, two years ago, and he had stolen Denver Bronco linebacker Von Miller’s helmet after Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, CA last year.
Shortly after Glazer’s breaking the news of the discovery, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, tweeted the following at 8:24 a.m. Houston time:
Later that morning, Acevedo held a 12 minute press conference (video embedded below) not only announcing the recovery of the jerseys (no mention of Miller’s helmet is made in the press conference), but claiming that the Houston Police Department had been the “lead agency” in the investigation and recovery of the stolen items “from the beginning.”
From the press conference, per Acevedo:
“The reason that the jersey has been recovered is because of the men and women of the Houston Police Department and their outstanding work. The Houston Police Department’s Major Offenders division has been the lead agency on this investigation from the beginning, after it was learned this jersey was stole. After the Super Bowl, it was reported missing from the Patriots’ locker room. Since that time, our investigators have worked diligently trying to develop leads as to where this jersey may have gone.
“Our investigators actually developed information from an informant here in Houston that led them to Mexico, that led them to believe that the jersey was actually in Mexico. Quite frankly, as a result of that investigation, we were able to work with the FBI and Mexican authorities to respond to the suspect’s last known location and look for the jersey. The jersey was subsequently recovered, along with a jersey from Mr. Brady from Super Bowl 49 that had previously gone missing, and taken by the FBI and NFL Security to Boston where efforts are being made to authenticate the jersey.”
“[NFL Security] really needs to check their protocols and their efforts, because these are two jerseys that we are aware of, and obviously it required a response from the Houston Police Department and other partners to recover them.”
However, a detailed timeline reported by Edmund Mahony of The Hartford Courant, along with further detail that SportsRadio 610 has learned from sources directly tied to the investigation, both paint a very different picture from Acevedo’s claims.
As first reported by the Courant (and confirmed by SportsRadio 610), the identification of Ortega as the perpetrator began with NFL Security reaching out to contacts at FOX, which broadcast Super Bowl 51, to obtain video footage from the various cameras that the network had installed throughout NRG Stadium for the broadcast, including key cameras in and outside the locker room area.
The video was sent by FOX to the Patriots’ offices at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. There, FBI agents Geoffrey Kelly and Kevin White, among others (none in HPD), were waiting to examine the video for clues on how this crime could have occurred. The FOX video was the key to the case, as the FBI and NFL Security were able to identify a middle-aged man (Ortega) wearing a media credential, embedding himself in New England head coach Bill Belichick’s entourage and sliding into the locker room, where he was able to steal the jersey, which Brady had left in his locker while fulfilling media commitments, and quickly leave before Brady returned to his locker to find the jersey was missing.
With the video providing a clear look at Ortega’s face, the FBI and NFL Security then procured the names of roughly 20,000 people who had been issued credentials for Super Bowl 51. They were able to narrow the list of suspects to 1,200 based on characteristics like race, age, and sex. They then went through the head shot images of the 1,200 on the list, and one at a time, compared them to Ortega. On the 846th credential, they found their match — Martin Mauricio Ortega.
From there, remarkably, a Chicago FBI agent, within minutes of the Ortega identification, called Kelly with information on Brady’s Super Bowl 49 jersey. A teenager on the West Coast informed the Chicago agent that Ortega had posted and deleted an internet post that included the Super Bowl 49 jersey. The FBI and NFL Security were able to locate the picture and match the jersey, through a very distinct grass stain, to the one Brady wore in images from the game. Our sources called the grass stain a “fingerprint, of sorts.”
According to SportsRadio 610’s sources involved in the investigation, at this point the FBI and NFL Security reached out to Houston Police to update them on what they believed was the identification of the key suspect and invited HPD to Foxborough to examine the evidence themselves. Up to this point, according to our sources, HPD was not fully committed to tracking down the perpetrator, a claim that Acevedo himself, in a way, corroborates by mentioning three times in the first four minutes of his victory-proclaiming press conference that the case was not a huge priority for HPD.
In response to the invitation by law enforcement in New England, HPD sent two officers to Foxborough, and it is here, SportsRadio 610 has learned, that Acevedo’s version of HPD’s involvement differs greatly from the information obtained from our sources. According to those sources, the HPD officers examined the copious amounts of evidence that led the FBI and NFL Security to Ortega — the FOX video footage and the picture of the Brady Super Bowl 49 jersey, both leading back to Ortega — and said it was their belief that there was “no smoking gun.” In other words, HPD did not see the evidence as enough to close in on Ortega as a suspect.
“[HPD] never became re-engaged in the case,” our source said. “They told us we had no smoking gun and went back to Houston.”
After some fits and starts in getting officials in Mexico moving on the case, eventually, John Durham, an assistant U.S. Attorney in New Haven, CT, was able to get the U.S. Department of Justice involved to get movement from officials in Mexico City. The Brady jerseys and Miller helmet were secured by FBI agents Kelly and White and brought back to the United States.
As for Ortega, our sources say that the likelihood of prosecution is very low, given the nature of the property involved (a few game jerseys and a football helmet) and the fact that Ortega is now seen as a pariah in his own country. “He is essentially a shut-in, a prisoner in his own home,” our source said.
We reached out to the Houston Police department and received this statement shortly after the publication of this story:
“HPD won’t dispute or engage in a debate into the chronological stages of an investigation and will simply say our investigators began the investigation into the disappearance of Tom Brady’s jersey and played an integral role in the jersey’s recovery. We stand by our public statements and have continually thanked numerous other partners mentioned for their time and efforts. We have other pressing public safety matters to attend to and will not comment further.”