The Parker’s Kitchen gas station on U.S. 301 just outside the tiny southeast Georgia town of Jesup is an unlikely spot for the start of a multi-year nationwide criminal scheme involving several hundred diamonds, several hundred thousand dollars and Tom Brady’s phantom nephews.
Parker’s is a franchise of coastal gas station/convenience stores, clean and pleasant, a leap up from the don’t-go-in-the-bathroom roadside service stations but not quite a Disney-with-beef-jerky behemoth like Buc-ees. What the Jesup Parker’s Kitchen does have is a wide parking lot, very bright lights and easy access to the highway, making it an ideal spot for a rapid exchange of a variety of goods and services at 11:00 p.m. … goods that included, on one notable occasion, a Super Bowl ring.
Robert Kraft sported a Persian blue sportcoat and a wide smile as he welcomed the Patriots to his home. It was June 9, 2017, 15 years to the day after New England had held its first Super Bowl ring ceremony. Deflategate and Spygate were in the rearview mirror, the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick divorce years in the future. That night would be an evening to celebrate the Patriots' most remarkable achievement in a generation's worth of them.
Brady sported his four previous rings on his left hand, the mammoth rings clinking against his cocktail glass. LeGarrette Blount draped a massive arm over Kraft’s shoulders. Martellus Bennett posed, arms wide, in front of the five Lombardis on display.
The mood on this perfect summertime evening was joyous, and rightfully so. The 2016-season Patriots who were gathering at Kraft’s estate hadn’t won just any old Super Bowl. They had pulled off the most remarkable comeback in Super Bowl history, rallying from 28-3 to defeat the Atlanta Falcons and claim their fifth title.
At place settings across the party sat dozens of small, clear boxes. Each one featured the Super Bowl LI logo, the player’s name, and the Patriots logo inscribed on the top. Each box was also sealed with a tiny, three-digit combination lock.
You might guess that the combination would be 2-8-3, and you would be wrong. The combination was 8, for the eight months the team had spent together since the start of training camp; 3, for the three phases of a team — offense, defense, special teams — necessary to win; and 1, for the Patriots’ status as a No. 1 team. 8-3-1.
But there was a Super Bowl LI component, of course. The time on the clock in the third quarter when the Patriots first got the ball back after falling behind 28-3? 8:31. The time on the clock in the fourth quarter when Dont’a Hightower strip-sacked Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, keeping the Patriots’ rally going? 8:31.
When the players opened their boxes, they found what were at that time the largest Super Bowl rings ever made. The rings tell the story not just of the Super Bowl, but of the Patriots franchise as a whole, with Lombardi trophies, Gillette Stadium’s iconic lighthouse and bridge view, a sapphire-and-ruby logo, and the words “We are all Patriots” and “Greatest Comeback Ever” inscribed within. And it’s all wrapped in diamonds — 283 in all.
It’s a ring unlike any other in NFL history. And almost every player will cherish it forever.
For the first 150 rings a Super Bowl champion team orders, the NFL contributes about $5,000 to $7,000 per ring. Beyond that, it's the team's responsibility to cover the whole cost. While every team gives rings to all Super Bowl-roster players, coaching staff and front office members, Kraft will often buy dozens more to give to players who passed through Foxborough at one point or another during the Super Bowl year.
One such player, identified in court documents as “T.J.,” had the good fortune to pass through the New England Patriots organization while it was stacking Super Bowl trophies. T.J. played for Florida State during its most recent national championship season, and was a member of the Patriots organization in the 2016 season. New England released him shortly after Super Bowl LI, and he did not attend Kraft’s June ring unveiling. But since he’d been on the payroll during Super Bowl LI, he received his own ring, which showed up in the mail in late July.
Court documents detail what happened next.
A few weeks after T.J. received his ring — Yahoo Sports has identified T.J., but will not reveal his name — he opened Instagram to find a message waiting for him from a man named Scott V. Spina Jr. Representing himself as a merch and collectibles salesman, Spina, 19 years old at the time, claimed celebrity clients such as the rapper Fat Joe, and inquired whether T.J. would be interested in selling his Super Bowl ring and his rings from Florida State's then-recent national championship run. (Spina's attorney claimed in court filings that T.J. initiated the contact.) T.J. was intrigued enough to agree to a meeting, and the very next day, Sept. 25, 2017, Spina boarded a plane in New Jersey for a trip that would change both their lives for the worse.
Spina and his girlfriend flew into the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, rented a car, and drove the 60 miles to the Parker’s Kitchen outside Jesup. There in the parking lot, they met T.J., who was carrying boxes holding both his Super Bowl and national championship rings, and there, in the thick, humid air, they began negotiating.
Telling T.J. he knew someone who could sell the Super Bowl ring at auction, Spina opened with an outright offer of $30,000 for the Super Bowl and several of T.J.’s college rings.
“The college rings are worth only a few grand all together,” Spina said. “It’s the Patriot ring that’s worth the amount they are paying.”
T.J. declined, so Spina raised to $50,000, with the stipulation that T.J. would receive that amount regardless of what the rings fetched at auction. Half now, half on completion of the auction, Spina promised.
That was sweet enough for T.J. to swing the deal. Spina’s girlfriend took photos of the two men meeting and negotiating in order to establish the ring’s authenticity. According to the FBI, Spina handed T.J. two checks — one for $12,000, one for $13,000. In return, T.J. handed over the box containing his Super Bowl ring, along with all the paperwork and certificates that came with it, and the two men went their separate ways.
Soon afterward, according to FBI investigators, T.J. tried to cash the checks. Both bounced. (It is worth noting here that Spina’s attorney contended in court filings that Spina paid T.J. $20,000 in cash and $12,000 by check, acknowledging that the check bounced.)
T.J. tried to contact Spina on Instagram, but Spina didn’t respond. He had what he wanted from T.J., and was moving on, fast. Spina contacted a California-based dealer with experience in moving championship rings. Intrigued, the dealer agreed on September 29 to purchase the ring for $63,000, and flew from California to New Jersey to close the deal.
Spina insisted on being paid in cash, and the dealer had to visit multiple Bank of America locations in New Jersey to amass the funds. Spina’s written agreement with the dealer transferring ownership of the ring stated that Spina owned the ring “free and clear,” when that was clearly not the case, but the ring changed hands again anyway.
T.J.’s ring was gone, but T.J., according to FBI documents, did not receive any of the proceeds from Spina. That decision alone would cause Spina problems soon enough.
But in the paperwork T.J. had provided him, Spina discovered something interesting: a loophole he thought he could use to make himself rich.
Owning a Super Bowl LI ring comes with a little-known perk: the ability to order additional, slightly smaller duplicate rings for one's family and friends. They're not cheap, but they're authentic, in the sense that they're manufactured by the exact same company — in the case of Super Bowl LI, Jostens — that made the original rings. (Jostens did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
Every Super Bowl ring comes with its own distinctive box, but also with paperwork that contains information on how to order additional rings. Spina read over the paperwork and quickly realized that ordering another ring with T.J.’s name would be valuable … but if he could order a ring with a certain other Patriot’s name on it, that ring would be worth substantially more.
Using information from the player’s paperwork, Spina called Jostens on Sept. 28, 2017, and began fishing.
“I want to purchase a family ring for the Patriots,” he said, claiming that he was having problems ordering online. He spoke to a Jostens operator that court documents identify as “Kim,” who told Spina that he could have anything he wanted printed on the ring, as long as it was within the character limit. He asked how long the ring would take to be created — six to eight weeks — and whether it could be delivered to an outside address rather than the Patriots’ team facility (yes). Spina was testing the system, looking for information he could use when he called back the next day to move forward with his plan.
On Sept. 29, Spina called back, again posing as T.J.
“I’m gonna place a couple of ring orders today,” he told Kim. “I want to get, uh, a quarterback a present for his baby.”
“What’s the, um, quarterback [sic] last name that you’re looking to order it for?” Kim asked.
“Brady,” Spina replied, helpfully spelling out “B-R-A-D-Y.”
Spina ordered three rings, sizes eight, 11, and 12, claiming that they were for “[Brady’s] family.” The cost of three rings topped $30,000, but Spina claimed his “financial advisor” would not permit him to put them on a credit card. He asked about making a wire transfer, but was told Jostens did not accept such transfers. So he managed to put together a certified check for $31,757.86 — unlike T.J., Jostens would not take Spina’s word that a personal check was good.
At the same time, Spina reached out to the same merchandise dealer who’d bought T.J.’s original ring, texting him that he was working “a deal out with brady rings,” claiming that “Brady’s nephews” had agreed to sell him the rings. The dealer and Spina agreed to a price of $81,500 for the three rings.
On October 5, Spina arranged for a certified check to be sent to Jostens — a check which actually had Spina’s name printed on it, with a handwritten memo indicating it was an order for T.J. Still, soon afterward, Jostens began work on three Brady-engraved Super Bowl LI “family” rings.
That same day, Spina and the dealer executed a written contract to purchase "Three (3) Tom Brady 2016 New England Patriots Super Bowl LI World Championship Rings." Spina indicated in the contract that the three rings "were ordered for Tom Brady directly from Jostens, for select family members." The dealer agreed to pay $81,500 for the three rings, wiring $6,500 in advance and agreeing to pay the balance upon receipt of the rings. The dealer used three separate Zelle transfers to complete the deal, a number which would become significant to Spina's fate soon enough.
Jostens completed the new rings, shipping them out on Nov. 17 so that "Brady" would be able to present them to his nephews as a Christmas present at Thanksgiving … or so Spina told Kim. Somewhere along the line, though, the dealer got cold feet, wondering — rightly, as it turned out — whether Brady truly had nephews that would actually sell those rings. (Brady has three older sisters and does have multiple nieces and nephews.)
After the dealer backed out of the deal, Spina moved quickly, selling the rings to Goldin Auctions for $100,000. Soon afterward, in January 2018, Goldin opened an auction on the first of the Brady rings, advertising it — correctly — as a family ring, smaller than the originals.
"This is the first Brady award that has ever come to market,". "He never lets things go, and nobody from his inner circle has ever given up something like this."
The auction — and headlines indicating the ring was “authorized” by Brady — drew the attention of Brady’s “inner circle,” and attorneys for Brady made Goldin Auctions note that the ring was not, in fact, authorized by Brady.
Even so, the ring sold for an astonishing amount — $344,927 — which,, was the highest price paid for sports memorabilia in the prior 25 years since Mike Piazza's uniform for the first game after Sept. 11 sold for $365,000 in April 2016.
However, once Goldin Auctions confirmed the circumstances behind the ring’s creation, the sale was canceled and the money returned to the buyer. Goldin auctions declined to speak on any other aspect of the case, and declined to indicate whether the three “family” rings are still in the auction house’s possession.
The fate of T.J.'s ring remains unclear as well. The dealer who originally bought the ring for $63,000 did not respond to multiple interview requests. At least two Super Bowl LI ring transactions have since occurred, one by SCP Auctions for $75,000 and another,. Neither the player(s) nor the buyer have been disclosed in either of those. (Kraft sold his Super Bowl LI ring for more than $1 million in a May 2020 benefit auction to raise money for COVID-19 relief.)
T.J. had long ago given up trying to get his Super Bowl ring back. Like many players who have parted with their rings, he’d been embarrassed about falling into circumstances that forced him to sell the ring in the first place, according to FBI investigators, and wanted to avoid any more publicity that came from continuing to pursue the ring. But when the FBI came calling in August 2020, he listened and agreed to help. Federal investigators had begun looking into Spina’s story, and through conversations with T.J. and others, the scope of Spina’s fraud became clear.
Spina was charged with one count of mail fraud, for using FedEx to ship the contract to purchase the rings to the dealer; three counts of wire fraud for the three payments Spina received under false pretenses; and one count of aggravated identity theft, for impersonating the player to order the rings.
The authorities knew where to find Spina. Less than a year after his ill-fated trip to Jesup, he was in prison, locked up at FCI Schuykill in Pennsylvania and serving 35 months on an unrelated wire fraud offense. A Schuylkill prison official deemed Spina “by far the best worker I had,” with “an unbelievable drive to get work done.” He was released to a halfway house in November 2020, and put on supervised release in March 2021. According to a letter from his attorney, Spina worked for a time as a manager at a salon, and in May 2022 proposed to his girlfriend.
He was facing a maximum charge of 92 years in prison and a fine of $1.25 million. He opted to plead guilty to all counts, and in August 2022 was sentenced to 36 months in prison, where he is today. He has also been ordered to pay T.J. restitution of $63,000. (Spina, through his attorney, declined to speak to Yahoo Sports.)
None of the numbers Florida State has on file for T.J. are now in service, and the whereabouts of all four rings are not publicly known. The market for Super Bowl rings, however, remains strong. Every year, dozens more go up for auction.