Suspected thief of Tom Brady jersey sought autographs, selfies
MEXICO CITY — The Mexican media executive suspected of stealing Tom Brady's jersey went to the Super Bowl as a working journalist but spent the week collecting selfies and autographs from football greats and boasting to colleagues that he was there as a fan.
Mexican journalists who were in Houston for the game and interacted with Martin Mauricio Ortega, former director of the tabloid La Prensa, told The Associated Press that he brought multiple NFL memorabilia items, including a Kurt Warner jersey he hoped to sell to the former quarterback for thousands of dollars.
"When I met him he was carrying a football helmet and he was bragging about having the signatures of former Super Bowl MVPs, and he was a little disappointed that Marshall Faulk refused to sign it," said Ariel Velazquez, who covered the game for the Mexican daily El Universal. "He also said that he was not there to work: 'There are people here to do that.'"
Brady's jersey went missing from the Patriots' locker room after the game, and set off an investigation that stretched from Boston to the border. Working with U.S. investigators, Mexican authorities obtained a search warrant and recovered the jersey March 12, along with another Brady jersey that disappeared after the 2015 Super Bowl. A helmet belonging to a Denver Broncos player was also discovered, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.
Broncos spokesman Patrick Smyth said the team was in touch with NFL security because the helmet may belong to Von Miller, MVP at the 2016 Super Bowl. Ortega may have tried to sell it: A memorabilia dealer told the AP Tuesday that Ortega once asked him how much the helmet would be worth.
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.
Ortega did not respond to multiple calls and text messages to his personal phone seeking comment.
Arturo Palafox, sports editor of the newspaper 24 Horas, said he talked to Ortega frequently in Houston both in the media center and while riding the shuttle to and from the hotel. He was surprised that someone with the rank of newspaper director would be covering the Super Bowl as a reporter.
"He told me that he was not there to work, that he was a fan," Palafox said. "And that he had asked for vacation from work to spend it at Super Bowl week, and he had attended more than 20 of them."
Velazquez and Palafox both said Ortega was carrying a bag containing a past Super Bowl jersey worn by Warner and an Emmitt Smith book. Warner was named MVP at the 2000 Super Bowl.
"He showed me Warner's jersey with his signature and told me a story about how Warner was surprised that he was in possession of the item," Palafox said. "He said he planned to gather interest from Warner to sell him the jersey for $8,000."
An official at OEM, the publishing company that owns La Prensa, said Ortega was not part of its Super Bowl coverage and the company had no idea he was even there. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.