Tunsil camp tries to determine if ex-adviser accessed social media

ByMark Schlabach and Nicole Noren ESPN logo
Thursday, May 5, 2016

Miami Dolphins rookie Laremy Tunsil's attorneys and agent are investigating his relationship with a former business manager/financial adviser and trying to determine what role, if any, the man might have played in accessing Tunsil's Twitter and Instagram accounts during last week's NFL draft, people familiar with the situation told Outside the Lines.

Based on what Tunsil's representatives uncover, they might turn their findings over to the FBI to pursue potential criminal charges against the man, the sources said.

Tunsil, a former All-American offensive tackle atOle Miss, hired a man to work as his business manager and financial adviser in mid-October, about two-and-a-half months before his junior season with the Rebels ended, according to thesources. The man scheduled agents' meetings with Tunsil and his mother, Desiree Polingo, and handled other duties for him.

Tunsil fired the business manager after other agents informed Tunsil that the man wasn't licensed or registered to work as a financial adviser but was a "runner," a term used to describe someone who gives money and other benefits to a player in order to entice the player to sign with an agent or financial adviser with whom the runner is working.

The sources said the business manager gave Tunsil a new cell phone in mid-October. People close to Tunsil believe the man might have accessed Tunsil's social media accounts Thursday by logging into them through his old phone.

Tunsil's attorney, Steve Farese of Holly Springs, Mississippi, wouldn't confirm the identity of the man. Farese said Tunsil would have to decide whether to pursue criminal charges or a civil lawsuit against him.

Tunsil was projected to be a top-five pick in the NFL draft, but less than 15 minutes before the start of the draft, someone used his Twitter account to post a video of him smoking a substance with a bong and gas mask.

After Tunsil was selected by the Dolphins with the 13th pick, someone then posted two images on Tunsil's Instagram account. They were screen grabs of alleged text messages between Tunsil and Ole Miss assistant athletics director John Miller, in which Tunsil asked for money to pay his rent and his mother's utility bill.

Jimmy Sexton, Tunsil's agent, declined to comment for this story.

Tunsil's fall from the draft's projected No. 3 pick to No. 13 might have cost him at least $10 million in guaranteed signing bonuses, according to some estimates. A Baltimore Ravens official told ESPN that the team's front office declined to select Tunsil with the No. 6 pick after watching the video of him smoking the bong.

As for seeking charges against whoever accessed Tunsil's social media accounts, Farese said: "It would be up to Laremy, and at the same time, it would be up to the authorities. The victim does not always make the call."

Jason Pack, spokesman for the FBI office in Jackson, Mississippi, told Outside the Lines that his office hasn't been contacted about the case. Pack said he was unaware of any federal investigation into the incident.

"The FBI is not currently involved in the matter and has not heard from anyone involved in the incident," Pack said.

The Lafayette County Sheriff's and University of Mississippi Police departments said no complaints or reports have been received regarding the social media accounts. Oxford, Mississippi, police and the U.S. Attorney's Office could not be reached for immediate comment.

An NFL official told ESPN that league security officials aren't currently investigating the incident. Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum told ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show that the team would support Tunsil but wouldn't lead the effort to find the person who accessed his accounts.

"We'll support our players, but the lion's share of that is handled personally, either through his agent or his attorneys," Tannenbaum said. "We'll support him, and NFL security is very good. They're a great partner and have great resources."

According to the Mississippi Office of Enforcement and Regulation, which regulates sports agents in the state, an athlete agent is "any individual who enters into an agency contract with a student-athlete or, directly or indirectly, recruits, induces or solicits a student-athlete to enter into an agency contract." Athlete agents must register with the state or possibly face civil and/or criminal punishment.

Minutes after the social media account postings on draft night, speculation centered around Tunsil's stepfather as a possible source of the postings due to their strained relationship, which includes a lawsuit and a complaint filed with the NCAA.

Last year, Tunsil and his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, filed domestic violence charges against each other. The criminal charges against both men were dropped in August, but an NCAA investigation into improper benefits began shortly after the charges were filed. Tunsil, who was considered the potential No. 1 pick in the draft at one point, was suspended by the NCAA for the first seven games of the past season for accepting improper benefits.

Two days before the NFL Draft, Miller filed a civil lawsuit against Tunsil in Lafayette County Court in Oxford, alleging that Tunsil had defamed his character and caused "intentional infliction of emotional distress." Included in the lawsuit was a request to depose Ole Miss head Coach Hugh Freeze.

Miller has denied that he had anything to do with the social media postings on draft night. He told ESPN over the weekend, "If I had a picture of Laremy or Instagram -- I don't have Instagram or Twitter -- but if I had Instagram information, when I talked to the NCAA, I would have given that. ... I would have gave that information up then."

College players cannot hire agents, per NCAA rules, while they are playing or undeclared for a professional league's draft. The NCAA has rules that broadly define what an "agent" is, and those rules can include people acting as financial advisers to players. An NCAA official declined comment to Outside the Lines about whether it is investigating anything related to Tunsil's former business manager/financial adviser, citing policy that prohibits it from commenting on current, pending or potential investigations.

Nicole Noren is a producer in ESPN's Enterprise/Investigative Unit and can be reached at nicole.k.noren@espn.com. ESPN reporters Chris Low, Adam Schefter and Edward Aschoff contributed to this report.