BOSTON (Reuters) - Authorities plan to arrest New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez on suspicion of interfering with a homicide investigation, a police official said on Friday, a potentially damaging setback to one of pro football’s top franchises.
An arrest warrant for obstruction of justice was issued for Hernandez, 23, a tight end and rising star in the National Football League, said the police officer, who requested anonymity.
The security system at Hernandez’s home, which had video, was intentionally destroyed, ABC News reported, adding that the player’s cell phone was given to police “in pieces.” The television network, citing unnamed sources, also reported police wanted to know why a team of house cleaners was hired on Monday to scrub Hernandez’s mansion.
With moves like a wide receiver, Hernandez has emerged as a potent weapon in one of the best tight end tandems in the NFL, earning him a $4 million per year contract.
All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady frequently uses Hernandez and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski to slice through opponent defenses, one reason the Patriots have been perennial favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
Now Hernandez is at the center of an investigation into the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, 27, a semi-professional football player for the Boston Bandits.
Lloyd’s body was discovered on Monday in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, some 40 miles south of Boston.
Video images taken that morning appeared to show Hernandez with Lloyd on Fayston Street in Boston, the Boston Globe reported, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials including one with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Police have searched Hernandez’s house and questioned him.
Michael Fee, an attorney for Hernandez, was not immediately available for comment. The Bristol County District Attorney’s office did not return messages seeking comment.
For the image-conscious NFL, the saga follows other high-profile criminal cases [ID:nL2N0EX114] including one last year in which Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, shot his girlfriend to death, then drove to the team training facility and killed himself in front of his head coach and general manager.
Quarterback Michael Vick was arrested in 2007 and spent 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to bankrolling an illegal dog-fighting ring. Retired linebacker Ray Lewis was linked to a double murder outside an Atlanta nightclub in 2000. He was charged with murder and later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was fined $250,000 by the NFL.
The league has declined to comment about the Hernandez case.
Hernandez also has been hit with a civil lawsuit by a Connecticut man, Alexander Bradley, who claims Hernandez shot him in the face after the two left a Miami strip club in February, causing him to lose an eye.
Police had investigated the February shooting, but abandoned the case after Bradley refused to cooperate, a Florida police official said late on Wednesday.
In April, footwear and apparel company Puma announced a two-year endorsement deal with Hernandez.
“Hernandez has proven to be prominent role model for kids and adult fans across the country,” Puma said in its April press release. Katie Sheptyck, a Puma spokeswoman, declined to comment on the developments surrounding Hernandez.
He played at the University of Florida before being drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. He slipped in the draft because some teams had concerns about his off-field activities.
The Boston Globe, quoting an unnamed NFL scout, said one team’s pre-draft file on Hernandez indicated he might be prone to flashes of temper.
“Self-esteem is quite low; not well-adjusted emotionally, not happy, moods unpredictable, not stable, doesn’t take much to set him off, but not an especially jumpy guy,” The Globe reported, quoting an excerpt from the scouting report.
Last year, though, Hernandez agreed to an extension to his contract with the Patriots that reportedly included a $12.5 million signing bonus. He was due to make more than $4 million for each of the next two seasons, according to SportsCity.com, a website that tracks NFL salaries.
Around the time of his contract extension, an entity called Avy Jay LLC, which lists Hernandez as the registered agent, bought the home in North Attleborough for $1.3 million, real estate records show.
Reporting by Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Leslie Gevirtz and Tim Dobbyn