Rolling Stone contributing editor Paul Solotaroff, who wrote the magazine’s investigative story on Aaron Hernandez with Herald columnist Ron Borges, paints a rather unflattering picture of the Patriots brass.
While the most explosive details in the piece are Hernandez’s use of angel dust, his increasing paranoia, and threats that the Patriots would cut the star tight end well before his arrest, it also is at times scathing toward Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whom Solotaroff calls largely responsible for Hernandez’s care, and owner Bob Kraft, whom he labels in the following interview as “guilty by omission” at best.
A key detail reported in the article is that the Patriots’ security team, TeamOps, no longer has the same connections to local law enforcement since the Patriots replaced their security chief, former Massachusetts State Police officer Frank Mendes, with former Wembley Stadium security chief Mark Briggs in 2003. With Briggs at the helm, the article contends, the Patriots lost a broad network of eyes on players from local law enforcement.
“I’d have known within a half-hour if Hernandez had gotten in trouble with police,” Mendes says in the article, “and told Belichick and he’d do whatever.”
Mendes’s firing, the article states, was Belichick’s call.
In an interview Wednesday, Solotaroff elaborated on some of these topics and others.
Q. How long did the reporting process take?
A. I did most of the stuff down here. Bristol was my beat. Ron did the lion’s share of Boston. I went up there several times. Met with Odin Lloyd’s people, friends, extended family.
But Ron did most of the heavy reporting on the Pats, on the interactions between Hernandez and Belichick this last offseason, the details about what happened out there in California when he was allegedly rehabbing but really just smoking a bunch of angel dust.
Q. Belichick threatened to cut him after the 2013 season. Why after 2013?
A. I think it was probably financial. Also, let’s remember, [Rob Gronkowski] has been essentially a medical patient for the last six-seven months. And who else is going to play the position? Ironically if Hernandez hadn’t shot himself metaphorically -- and certainly a bunch of other people -- he would have had the season of his life. He would have been Brady’s first, second, and third option.
Q. From what you’ve gathered, talking to family friends and associates, can you pinpoint his paranoia to strictly drugs, specifically angel dust?
A. I think so. Here’s a guy who for all his gangster implications was nonetheless, or more or less, an honest citizen up until about 13-14 months ago, which is when everybody pegs his angel dust use beginning. And it sure explains a lot. It explains what happened outside club Cure 13 months ago, it explains the strip club incident in Rhode Island, it explains the shooting outside the strip club in Miami, it explains just this incredible recklessness with which he had been living and carrying himself away from the practice facility.
Q. You wrote that it was utter nonsense that Robert Kraft was “duped,” as he told reporters after Hernandez was arrested. Is it nonsense because he should have known, or he did know and was not being forthcoming?
A. I left that a little vague deliberately. People have told me close to the team that Kraft has been stepping back, increasingly letting his son (Jonathan Kraft) but most particularly, most meaningfully, Belichick make all the football decisions, including what goes upstairs. What information is passed along to the guy who runs the team. If Kraft did not know just how damaged a character Hernandez was coming out of college, he certainly needs to hold Belichick’s feet to the fire for that because everybody else knew. And if he knew but trusted Belichick to police Hernandez, much like he was delegated to police the other thugs he has been drafting and trading for, then it seems to me that he is guilty by omission.
Q. In another interview, you said Bill Belichick was responsible for all of this. Can you elaborate on that?
A. From my reporting and Ron’s reporting especially, what’s come across is that Belichick has been the decider on that team for many years now. Either through attrition or through his own machinations, he has really become the kind of final say on personnel matters.
So we hear all of this nonsense about the Patriot Way — even Hernandez himself was giving it great lip service when he re-ups for $40 million — but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it actually being put in practice. And certainly not in the case of Hernandez, who is allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted to do — not going to OTAs, go out to California to work out on his own, or to drop in on Tom Brady’s pitch-and-catch camp out there at Patriots West.
So I think the extent that the Patriots were uninformed or underinformed, that falls squarely in Belichick’s lap in large part because of the sabotage he wound up doing to the team’s security crew by phasing out Frank Mendes and bringing in the British guy (Mark Briggs) to take over team surveillance. What he lost was a very powerful and very broad-based network of state cops and Boston city cops who would call up a guy like Mendes and whisper into his ear. That all went away with Briggs.
Q. What do you think of Hernandez’s fate in court, given the circumstantial evidence you point to in your article?
A. Was it the dumbest crime in recent American criminal history? Probably. But Aaron Hernandez has been getting away with everything for a very long time now. If he winds up getting away with this, his chief accomplice will be the Massachusetts prosecutor who brought charges in the first place.
To my mind, and to the thinking of a lot of people close to the case, they probably over-charged him. We’ll be asking a jury of 12 to send a 24-year-old man away for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole, without a murder weapon, a direct eyewitness, and a plausible motive. That will be very interesting to see unfold.
Q. What could the Patriots have done to prevent this situation?
A. It depends on when we’re talking about it. I certainly think that they were within their rights to draft the guy. Even though that no one else was racing to beat them to that fourth-round pick. But I think once they did so, it was really incumbent upon them to assign him a big brother. To put somebody on him like Urban Meyer did at Florida -- not that that was brilliantly effective, but at least he had some kind of monitoring system with the Pouncey twins and [Tim] Tebow. With the Patriots, the idea that he was going to be big brothered by a veteran — if that in fact was ever the intent — was never carried out.Zuri Berry can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.