From Deflategate to Jerseygate? Theft of Tom Brady's jersey subject to harsh punishment

Does Tom Brady's fifth title land him on the Mount Rushmore of sports?

Tom Brady may be the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but he also appears to be the victim of a theft. The #12 jersey Brady donned in the New England Patriots’ thrilling 34 to 28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI has gone missing.

Brady, who was named the game’s MVP, says he placed the game-worn jersey in his bag after the game ended. Brady did so to change into other clothing—a gray Super Bowl champion shirt—for the Vince Lombardi trophy presentation. During the presentation, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was booed loudly by the crowd, presented the Lombardi trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the stage with Brady, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick standing nearby. Apparently Brady’s bag was left in the Patriots locker room during this presentation. After the presentation ended, Brady went to retrieve the jersey from his bag. The jersey, however, was no longer in the bag or anywhere else in Brady’s line of sight. Brady believes that someone “stole” the jersey while he left the bag unattended.

Order the Patriots' Super Bowl LI commemorative package here

It is of course possible that no theft occurred. Brady’s jersey may have been inadvertently moved or even accidentally discarded. A locker room in the aftermath of a Super Bowl victory is joyous and chaotic, with players, family, friends and media all congregating in a relatively confined space. Many in attendance have also consumed a good deal of alcohol and thus their judgment might be impaired. With those factors in mind, a Patriots equipment attendant may have wisely placed Brady’s jersey in a safe place, though perhaps without telling Brady. Boston Fox 25’s Tom Leyden and Butch Sterns report that, according to a team official, an equipment attendant secured Brady’s jersey. The jersey, however, was thereafter lost or misplaced.

Whatever happened to Brady’s jersey, the jersey remains missing as of this writing. It’s unclear if security cameras within the NRG stadium might prove helpful in locating the jersey’s whereabouts or who might have it. The Houston Police Department is now investigating and Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has called in the Texas Rangers to help. Brady seems disappointed about the jersey gone missing, calling it “unfortunate.” Brady hopes people will let him know “if it shows up on eBay somewhere.”

Technically, Brady does not own the jersey, as it is the property of the Patriots and the NFL. Brady, however, would have been able to keep it as a cherished memento from his fifth Super Bowl victory.

Related: Where is Tom Brady's Super Bowl jersey? Here’s what we know.

If there is a jersey thief and if the thief is caught, he or she could face up to 99 years in prison under Texas law

Assuming Brady’s jersey was stolen and assuming the person or persons who stole it are identified—to be sure, quite a few assumptions there—the value of the jersey would have a dramatic impact on the degree of crime charged. Like other states, Texas assigns very different penalties for theft, which refers to intentionally taking property that the thief knows belongs to someone else. The penalties range widely depending on the value of the stolen item or items.

For example, a stolen item worth between $500 and $1,499 is punishable by up to one year in jail as a misdemeanor offense. But if the stolen item is worth between $1,500 and $19,999, the thief can be charged with a felony and face up to two years in prison. A stolen item worth between $20,000 and $99,999 is a felony of the third degree under Texas law and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The maximum prison sentence increases to 20 years if the stolen item is worth between $100,000 and $199,999. What about a stolen item worth $200,000 or more? In Texas, a thief of such a high-value item has committed a felony in the first degree and faces between 5 years and 99 years—yes, 99 years—in prison.

According to remarks by Rich Mueller of Sports Collectors Daily to Brad Tuttle in Tuttle’s Time article, the missing jersey could be worth $400,000 or more on an open market. While, for obvious reasons, a famous stolen item is not sold on an open market, the fair market value of the item would determine the degree of felony charged. Prosecutors and defense attorneys would thus debate how to assess the fair market value of Brady’s stolen jersey. Prosecutors would contend that such value is equivalent to what the jersey worn by Tom Brady in his historic Super Bowl LI victory would be worth if lawfully sold, whereas defense attorneys would insist that the jersey’s fair market value is merely the value of a used jersey worn by an NFL player—meaning a value lower than what it cost as a new jersey. Note that if the value of the jersey is determined by a court to be $200,000, a person charged with stealing the jersey could face first-degree theft. If convicted, he or she would face the possibility of a prison sentence ranging anywhere from five years to 99 years in prison. Would such a thief likely spend anywhere near 99 years in prison? Almost certainly not, particularly if the thief is a first time offender and is apologetic. But it would be a frightening legal situation for virtually anyone to encounter.

Related: Simply The Greatest: One play at a time, Brady's Patriots erased a deficit and made history

If there is a jersey thief who plans to sell the loot, he or she will have to wait a while before such a transaction could be conducted without the risk of criminal prosecution. Under Texas law, there is a five-year statute of limitations for theft. This means that a thief could face criminal prosecution for the misdeed until 2022. Potential buyers of the jersey should also beware while the statute of limitations is in effect: Buying a stolen good can itself constitute a criminal act. Even when not a crime, buying stolen personal property means that you take possession—but not legal title (ownership)—of the property. Such property must be returned to its rightful owner upon demand.

Brady’s missing jersey is not the first time that a Patriots Super Bowl item has been, shall we say, diverted from its rightful owner. In 2005, Kraft showed his Super Bowl XXXIX ring, adorned with 124 diamonds, to Russian President Vladimir Putin. As the story goes, Putin liked the ring so much that he decided to keep it, despite Kraft reaching out his hand for Putin to return it. Kraft initially told the public that he intended for Putin to have the ring as a gift, but later admitted that the White House directed him to offer such a diplomatic—and inaccurate—explanation. Kraft has since told media that he still wants the ring back. On Sunday, Kraft told Fox News that he would be happy to order a new Super Bowl XXXIX ring for Putin, with Putin’s name on it. He hopes that President Donald Trump would be able to convince Putin to exchange such a new ring for the one that belongs to Kraft.

Michael McCann is SI’s legal analyst. He is also an attorney and a tenured law professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

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