Tom Brady, the FBI and the Missing Jersey: Did Big Data Help?

It might not have been the biggest story involving the FBI this week, but it was definitely one of the oddest: the investigation into the disappearance of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s Super Bowl XLIX and LI jerseys.

It’s not that common for the FBI to get involved in theft investigations, but this particular incident included quite the cast of characters, including the federal bureau, the Houston Police Department, Mexican local and state police, and the National Football League.

The suspects? At first, up to 5,700 journalists who cover the Super Bowl each year, who were in attendance in Houston during the Patriots last-minute, overtime victory over the Falcons in February.

Cross-border theft and video evidence

It’s not easy to pin down a single thief in a stadium of more than 70,000 football fans, with thousands of journalists holding press passes and various degrees of access to stadium facilities.

Allegedly, a former Mexican tabloid executive entered the locker room on phony press credentials and swiped the jerseys, as well as some other possible sports memorabilia, according to reports from Fox News, the New York Times and the Associated Press. Authorities managed to locate video of Mauricio Ortega, the editor of Mexico City-based La Prensa, entering the locker room and leaving with something concealed under his shirt. The following video tweeted by @TheHerd provides an excellent overview of the heist.

Originally, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had contacted the Texas Rangers to help with the investigation of the jersey theft, which had been potentially valued at $500,000. But the fact that it involved a Mexican national who crossed the border meant the FBI had to get involved, too.

Could big data analytics have helped closed the case?

This case may have ended happily (unless you’re a Falcons fan) but not every investigation with so many suspects proceeds so smoothly. The FBI and Houston police were fortunate that at a venue like NRG Stadium, video-surveillance will be constant and widespread.

Tracking down the right leads and then combining them to produce useful insights is a task that gets exponentially harder the larger your dataset becomes. A few hundred journalists and a four-hour football game is one thing, but a modern criminal or fraud investigation might span thousands of hours of collected data and organizations that number in the tens of thousands.

Increasingly, investigators are turning to big data analytics solutions to crunch through this information, find small but significant connections and produce useful insights that lead to closed cases.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing if the FBI used such technologies in this particular investigation - but it might beat sitting down to watch uninterrupted hours of stadium surveillance footage, even if it was during the Super Bowl.