When the New England Patriots roared back from a 28-3 deficit to stun the Atlanta Falcons in overtime in the Super Bowl in 2017, it set off a frenzy among fans and collectors for memorabilia from the championship game.
Perhaps no item was more prized than the Patriots’ glittering Super Bowl ring, encrusted with five Lombardi trophies made of diamonds, symbolizing the number of championships the team had won, and engraved inside with the words “GREATEST COMEBACK EVER.”
According to prosecutors, a New Jersey man cheated a former Patriots player of his ring from that championship game and then posed as that player to order three more engraved with the name Brady, falsely claiming they were gifts for Tom Brady’s “baby.”
Mr. Brady did not have a baby at the time.
One of the rings was later sold at auction for more than $337,000.
The man, Scott V. Spina Jr., 25, of Roseland, N.J., was sentenced on Monday to three years in federal prison and ordered to pay $63,000 in restitution to the former Patriots player who had agreed to sell him his ring and other memorabilia, prosecutors said. The player was identified by prosecutors in court papers only as “T.J.”
Mr. Spina had pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in February to one count of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
“He accepts responsibility for his actions,” his lawyer, Thomas Ambrosio, said Tuesday. “He is disappointed in the fact that he has to go back to prison.”
In 2018, when Mr. Spina was 20, he was sentenced to 35 months in federal prison for committing wire fraud in an unrelated scheme related to his business selling high-end sneakers, which he began when he was a teenager, Mr. Ambrosio said. Since then, Mr. Spina had “done everything expected of him to rehabilitate himself and be a law-abiding citizen,” Mr. Ambrosio said.
“There are other white-collar crimes committed by people that get much more lenient sentencing,” Mr. Ambrosio said. “He fully expects to put this behind him as quickly as possible.”
The Super Bowl ring scheme began in September 2017, when Mr. Spina told T.J., the Patriots’ player, on Instagram that he would buy his championship ring and seven college football rings for $32,000 or a percentage of the proceeds from their sale at auction, prosecutors said.
Mr. Spina met the player at a gas station in Jesup, Ga., and gave him a check for the rings, knowing he didn’t have enough money to cover the amount, prosecutors said. Mr. Spina then sold the rings for $63,000 to a well-known broker of championship rings in Orange County, Calif, prosecutors said.
When Mr. Spina got the Super Bowl ring from T.J., he also obtained paperwork from the ring manufacturer with a login and password that allowed players to order championship rings for their family and friends. Those rings were slightly smaller versions of the ones given to the players themselves, but otherwise very similar in appearance, prosecutors said.
Mr. Spina called the ring company, posing as T.J., and said he wanted to order three rings as a present for Mr. Brady’s “baby,” prosecutors said. Mr. Brady has three children but the youngest would have been almost five years old at the time. A representative for Mr. Brady and his current team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, did not immediately respond to messages on Tuesday.
On the phone with a ring company representative, Mr. Spina spelled the name “Brady” for the inscription, and was told the cost would be just under $31,800, prosecutors said. Mr. Spina mailed a check to the company, which sent the three rings inscribed with the Brady name to Mr. Spina’s address in New Jersey in November 2017.
By that time, Mr. Spina had already contacted the Orange County ring broker again and claimed that he had a deal with three of Mr. Brady’s nephews in Massachusetts to buy their championship rings, which Mr. Brady was giving them as presents on Thanksgiving, prosecutors said.
The broker agreed to buy the rings for $81,500, prosecutors said.
But as he was preparing to fly to New Jersey to pick up the rings, the broker became concerned that Mr. Brady did not actually have nephews and tried to back out of the deal, prosecutors said.
Mr. Spina then sold the rings to an auction house for $100,000, prosecutors said. In February 2018, the auction house sold one of the rings to an unnamed buyer for $337,219, prosecutors said.
The authentic, original rings are undoubtedly valuable. In 2020, the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert K. Kraft, auctioned his championship ring from the Super Bowl in 2017 for more than $1 million, with the proceeds going to charity. And his ring from Super Bowl in 2005 reportedly ended up in the possession of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, when he handed it to Mr. Putin during a business trip. Mr. Putin put on the ring and kept it, Mr. Kraft has said.
Mr. Spina admitted in his plea agreement that he defrauded the Orange County ring broker when he falsely claimed that the rings he had “were ordered for Tom Brady directly” and that they were “for select family members,” prosecutors said.
“The rings,” prosecutors wrote in court documents, “were at no time authorized by Tom Brady.”