Ted Wells, chief investigator of the Patriots’ scandal over improperly inflated footballs, delivered a blistering response Tuesday to attacks by team owner Robert Kraft and by Tom Brady’s agent on his independence and integrity, while portraying the team as overly suspicious and its star quarterback as, at times, uncooperative.
Kraft and Brady’s agent, Don Yee, outraged by the NFL’s stiff penalties against Brady and the team for their alleged transgressions, have suggested that Wells shaped his report to satisfy unspecified NFL figures who bear ill will toward the Patriots and Brady. Wells derided such a premise as preposterous.
“All this discussion that people in the league office wanted to put some type of hit on the most popular, iconic player in the league — the real face of the league — just doesn’t make any sense,’’ Wells said in a conference call with the media. “It’s really a ridiculous allegation.’’
He said, “It is wrong to criticize my independence just because you disagree with my findings.’’
Wells pulled back part of the curtain on his multimillion-dollar investigation, portraying the Patriots as distrustful, if not paranoid, not only of his inquiry but of an initial investigation by the NFL’s security team. He challenged Yee to offer any information to back the agent’s accusations that the report withheld evidence favorable to Brady. And Wells provided considerably more detail about a range of issues, from his thwarted efforts to fully investigate Brady and the self-described “deflator,’’ Jim McNally, to his certainty about Brady’s culpability.
Brady, meanwhile, has begun pursuing the appeal of his four-game suspension with a legal team headed by Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the players union who has vast experience in sports-related litigation. In addition to the suspension, the National Football League fined the Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks.
For the investigator, there remains little doubt on Brady’s guilt. Wells said that if he had served on a jury and a judge had instructed him to determine Brady’s fate based on a preponderance of the evidence — as NFL rules bound him to do — then, “I would have checked the box that said, ‘Proven.’ ”
He said Brady might have helped himself had he complied with requests to turn over any relevant texts or e-mails. Instead, Wells said, Brady and Yee rejected even his highly unusual offer to let them decide what to hand over.
“I was willing not to take possession of the phone,’’ Wells said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to see any private information. You keep the phone . . . and give me documents that are responsive to this investigation, and I will take your word that you have given me what’s responsive.’ And they still refused.’’
Yee has maintained there was “no fairness in the Wells investigation whatsoever’’ and attributed the findings to “games played on Park Avenue,’’ the site of NFL headquarters in New York.
Wells called on Yee to prove his assertion that the Deflategate report unfairly characterized Brady by omitting material. Yee has said he kept detailed notes of Brady’s five-hour interview with Wells.
“There is nothing, I guarantee you, in those notes that would have made any difference in my decision,’’ Wells said. “He should publish those notes and stop acting like there is some secret in them.’’
As for Kraft’s distrust of NFL investigators, Wells said, “The Patriots urged me when I got in the case to start fresh, not to pay any attention to what NFL security had done. In fact, they thought the people at the NFL were biased.’’
The Patriots and Yee now say the same about Wells, a prominent white-collar defense lawyer and sports investigator who previously produced reports on scandals involving Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito, Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, and NBA players union chief Billy Hunter.
Wells said he never before has spoken publicly after his sports investigations but made an exception because of the attacks by Kraft and Yee.
“When I was appointed to be the independent investigator, no one with the Patriots or in Mr. Brady’s camp raised any issue about my independence or my integrity,’’ he said. “In fact, Mr. Kraft, to my recollection, said he welcomed my appointment.’’
On Monday, Kraft responded to the NFL’s punishment of Brady and the Patriots by accusing Wells of conducting a “one-sided investigation.’’ Neither the owner, nor Yee, reacted to Wells comments Tuesday.
When a Boston-based reporter during the conference call suggested Wells had improperly done “the NFL’s bidding’’ by veering off topic and stating in his report that Brady and the Patriots were not victims of a sting operation, the investigator said he addressed the issue only because the Patriots asked him to do so.
The team’s suspicions stemmed from a complaint from the Indianapolis Colts to the NFL before the AFC Championship game on Jan. 18 that the Patriots might be deflating footballs below the league’s minimum standard.
The Patriots were not informed of the complaint, and the investigation was launched after the Colts intercepted a Brady pass in the first half of the game and alerted officials the ball was under-inflated.
“The Patriots were all over me from day one about why the NFL did not tell them about the complaint and alleging there was a sting operation,’’ Wells said. “I investigated the issue and I did not find there was a sting. What the facts showed was the opposite.’’
He said his investigation determined that “no one at the league office took the [Colts] complaint seriously.’’ He said the complaint was forwarded by e-mail to the football operations staff, who relayed it to the game officials.
“You get these kinds of complaints all the time,’’ Wells said. “Nobody paid much attention to it. There was no sting operation.’’
Wells also rejected suggestions that his inquiry neglected to take into consideration how possible biases against the Patriots held by league officials could have influenced the inquiry. To the contrary, Wells said, the Patriots pushed him to address those very issues. Wells said he kept “a sharp eye’’ on the matter and “did not find that there was any kind of bias.’’
The best evidence against Brady and the Patriots, Wells said, was an exchange of texts between McNally and the team’s assistant equipment manager John Jastremski, three months before the AFC Championship game.
McNally, apparently unhappy with Brady, allegedly texted to Jastremski: “Tom sucks . . . im going make that next ball a [expletive] balloon.’’
Jastremski replied, “Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done.’’
Wells said the exchange has been inaccurately described as circumstantial evidence rather than direct evidence involving “two participants in the scheme.’’
“I believe in the bottom of my heart that it refers to the fact that there must be stress in getting the balls done’’ for Brady, Wells said.
Wells said he discovered the texts only after his sole interview with McNally. He said he planned to confront McNally, whom he called the most important witness, about them in a subsequent interview, but the Patriots refused.
“Not only [did the Patriots] say I couldn’t interview him, they said they would not even tell him about my request for an interview,’’ Wells said.
Kraft has justified the refusal by saying McNally already had been interviewed four times. In fact, Wells said, it was NFL investigators who interviewed McNally the first three times, for 40 minutes the night of the AFC title game, for 20 minutes by phone the next day, and for 30 minutes in person the following day, before Wells had his first and only opportunity to speak with him.
Wells, a Holy Cross graduate with degrees from the Harvard schools of business and law, acknowledged his investigation, commissioned by the NFL, cost millions of dollars. When he was asked to be more specific, he paused, but before he could elaborate, a league spokesman cut in, saying, “Not necessary.’’
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.