When Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay emerges from rehab, he will face questions from an NFL commissioner known for his hard line on the behavior of players off the field.
But will Roger Goodell apply those same standards to an NFL owner essentially one of his bosses?
Some players are closely watching to see whether that's the case. So, too, are sports law and ethics experts who say language in the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy could open Irsay up to scrutiny that goes beyond his March 16 arrest in Carmel on preliminary charges of impaired driving and possession of controlled substances.
The league's policy, which explicitly states that the rules apply to owners, says employees should be held to a "higher standard" than merely avoiding criminal conviction.
A sports law and ethics expert, as well as a source familiar with NFL operations, told The Indianapolis Star that the policy could lead Goodell to also ask about Irsay's relationship and associations outside of the Colts, including with an Indianapolis woman with a drug history of her own a woman who died of a suspected drug overdose two weeks before Irsay's arrest. Her body was found in a $139,500 townhouse Irsay gave her last August.
"The NFL is often criticized for protecting the 'shield,' and it does," said Mike Gilleran, executive director of the Santa Clara University Institute of Sports Law and Ethics. "How does the league look if it ignores that? It can't, in my view."
The source familiar with NFL operations told The Star the league likely would want to look at anything that could shed further light on Irsay's drug use and associations: How long has he been abusing prescription drugs? Is he using other illegal drugs? Who was he getting the drugs from? Who was he using them with?
Like Irsay, Kimberly Wundrum, 42, had a history of drug problems before she died March 1.
Timeline: Jim Irsay through the years
March 16 arrest: Jim Irsay carrying $29K cash when arrested
Excerpts: Jim Irsay's full arrest report
Wundrum's sister, Rhonda Wundrum, who has worked as Irsay's personal masseuse, said in an email her sister and Irsay were "former friends" but did not elaborate. A former neighbor of Kimberly Wundrum told The Star that Irsay sometimes visited Kimberly Wundrum, and that she once introduced the team owner to him.
"I cannot speak for them, and Kim cannot speak for herself," Rhonda Wundrum said. "My sister was a kind, loving and gentle person who had a long struggle, and her attempts to rise above her struggles were not successful."
Kimberly Wundrum was arrested twice on drug charges in the seven months before her death. She was arrested Aug. 30 in Miami County, Ohio, on charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and felony drug possession. Police found her with 18 "nonprescribed Vicodin ... and 0.6 grams of crushed, nonprescribed Adderall."
On Jan. 4, she was arrested in Boone County on charges of possession of a controlled substance, operating a vehicle while intoxicated with drugs in her system and criminal recklessness after she was stopped driving the wrong way on I-65 and almost hitting a police car.
Her drug-related ties go back years. While she was married to an attorney in Florida, he pleaded guilty in 1997 to federal tax charges and was sentenced to 15 months in prison for failing to report $364,000 in transactions he conducted for a man identified in court documents as a drug dealer. They were divorced in 2003, and he died in 2005 of a drug overdose.
While investigating the scene of Kimberly Wundrum's death, a police report lists evidence gathered at the scene as an "orange plate w/white powder, straw, razor." They also found photographs of Irsay in the home of the former homecoming queen candidate at Brownsburg High School in 1990.
Police and the coroner are awaiting the results of toxicology tests, which are expected later this month, before issuing a final cause in her death.
Irsay's recent arrest was not his first problem with drugs, either.
He acknowledged entering rehab in 2002 for a prescription drug addiction after his name surfaced in a police investigation of a doctor over-prescribing powerful painkillers. And in a 2010 interview with USA TODAY, he openly detailed a long history of recreational drug use including mushrooms and cocaine as a younger man.
"Oh, man. I was so balls-to-the-wall," Irsay said. "I could somehow hide that aspect a little, like ducks feeding underwater. Truth is, it was just all-out."
He declared his sobriety Aug. 6, 2002.
After Irsay's recent arrest, Star columnist Bob Kravitz reported that Colts insiders "for years ... have known Irsay was struggling again with drugs."
Several financial documents reveal a long association between Kimberly Wundrum and Irsay and the Colts.
An entity called the "2009 Blue Trust," which was administered by Colts executives, owned three homes since 2007 that Wundrum listed in public records as her address. She used two of those properties including an $800,000 home as the corporate address of her landscaping business in filings with the Indiana secretary of state.
The townhome in Traders Point where Wundrum died was purchased by the Blue Trust in June 2013 for $139,500. Weeks later, the trust transferred ownership of the property to Wundrum at no cost.
When asked about the Blue Trust, Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward responded that it pertains to Irsay's "personal life," and it would be "inappropriate for me to comment."
An email and text message to longtime Irsay spokeswoman Myra Borshoff Cook were not returned.
The trustee for the Blue Trust was Daniel Emerson, vice president and general counsel for the Colts. In one of the transactions, the warranty deed says the tax statement should be sent to the buyer's address: "Indpls. Colts attn. Pete Ward." The document also listed a post office box identical to the one listed on the team's official website.
The property transactions connecting Irsay to Wundrum, on their own, do not appear to be significant, said Gary Roberts, dean emeritus and Gerald L. Bepko professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. He added that Irsay likely did not break any laws by using Colts money or staff.
"The team is 100 percent owned by the Irsays," he said. "If the team was publicly traded, or if there were minority partners who might object, that could be different."
At most, Roberts said, the deals "sound to me like the sort of thing federal tax officials might want to look into."
That said, the transactions could raise questions in the public arena, Roberts said.
Central Indiana taxpayers have a large investment in the Colts through financing $620 million of the $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium.
Some analysts have said Irsay, whose net worth is $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, has one of the most lucrative stadium deals in the league. He keeps money from naming rights $121.5 million for 20 years advertising and luxury suites, and up to $3.5 million annually in profits from nonfootball events. That's in addition to money from tickets, food, drinks, merchandise and parking on Colts game days.
"It is one thing to subsidize the team so it can win on the field and to keep it in Indianapolis," Roberts said. "It is another thing to subsidize an entity that uses its money to provide a home to the owner's (friend). That could turn public opinion.
"The question is why? Why is he doing it that way?"
Irsay has not been formally charged following his March 16 arrest on preliminary counts of driving while impaired and possession of a controlled substance.
A police report said his speech was slurred and he could barely stand. But he passed a breath alcohol test, prompting an officer on the scene to tell his supervisor he "believed Irsay to be intoxicated on a substance other than alcohol." Police then obtained a court order to take a blood sample for testing.
Police found $29,000 in cash in a briefcase and laundry bag, along with numerous bottles containing prescription medications for which Irsay could not provide proof of a prescription.
Irsay was stopped shortly before midnight just blocks from a $1 million home he purchased in February. Public records show a recently divorced woman and her children moved into the house "on or about March 1."
The Hamilton County prosecutor's office said it will not comment on the case "until or unless" formal charges are filed. Spokesman Andre Miksha said he could not address the delay in filing charges, but legal experts said it is likely due, at least in part, to the time it takes to get test results back from the blood drawn from Irsay after his arrest.
No clear league precedent
Gilleran, the head of the sports law and ethics institute, said Goodell will be wading into uncharted territory in disciplining Irsay. Gilleran was responsible for handing out discipline during his 20-plus years as commissioner of the West Coast Conference and said he always looked first to any precedent that existed.
But a clear precedent to Irsay's situation is lacking.
Goodell hasn't had to discipline an owner for substance abuse or impaired driving. But he has fined at least two owners.
In 2009, Goodell fined Tennessee owner Bud Adams $250,000 for making an obscene gesture at an opposing team's fans.
In 2006, he fined Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney $25,000 for criticizing officials.
And in 2010 in a situation that comes closest to Irsay's Goodell suspended Detroit Lions President Tom Lewand for 30 days and fined him $100,000 after he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired.
An NFL spokesman declined to comment about Irsay's situation, but Goodell has said he will wait for "all the facts to emerge" before deciding what, if any, punishment Irsay might receive.
Goodell has upped the ante in league discipline.
Less than a year after taking the job in 2006, he introduced his Personal Conduct Policy, which gave him vastly expanded power to suspend players and NFL staff.
"It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime," the policy says. "Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard."
In 2012, he stunned New Orleans coach Sean Payton by suspending him for an entire season because of the team's "bounty" program, where players earned money for injuring opponents.
The section of the NFL's drug policy that covers "drugs of abuse," which the league distinguishes from performance-enhancing drugs, says violations "may include substantially longer suspensions."
The league suspended at least 12 players last season for more than 40 games because of "substances of abuse." That included Colts receiver LaVon Brazill, who was suspended for the first four games of the season, losing about $125,000 in salary.
George Atallah, assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association, declined comment. But some players are wondering publicly whether Irsay will be treated differently.
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who made the game-winning interception in last season's NFC Championship game, worries there could be a double standard. Writing on mmqb.com, Sherman contrasted the reaction to Irsay to the treatment star Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson received recently after being cut reportedly for "gang ties," according a media report.
"Commit certain crimes in this league and be a certain color, and you get help, not scorn," Sherman wrote. "Nobody suggested the Colts owner had 'ties' to drug trafficking, even though he was caught driving with controlled substances
and $29,000 in cash to do who-knows-what with."
Former Colts defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland, who has a sports radio show in Tampa, Fla., tweeted that he'd suspend Irsay for a year with "no football contact whatsoever," adding that's the "only way you send a message to the players and the fans!!"
Star reporter Stephanie Wang and Star researcher Cathy Knapp contributed to this story.
Call Star reporter Tim Evans at (317) 444-6204. Call Star reporter Mark Alesia at (317) 444-6311 or email Mark.Alesia@indystar.com
. Follow them on Twitter: @starwatchtim and @markalesia.
HOW IRSAY WAS INVOLVED IN A TANGLED REAL ESTATE WEB
From 2007 until her death March 1, Kimberly Wundrum lived in three different homes with ties to the Indianapolis Colts and owner Jim Irsay. Records show the properties all were owned by a private entity called the "2009 Blue Trust," which was administered by Colts officials. A Colts spokesman said the trust's activities pertained to Irsay's "personal life."
8315 Codesa Way
June 2013: The Blue Trust purchased the townhouse for $139,500.
August 2013: The trust gave the townhouse to Kimberly Wundrum at no cost.
Kimberly Wundrum was found dead in the townhouse March 2 of a suspected drug overdose.
7910 Mill Pond Lane
March 2010: Irsay friend Thomas Moses purchased the house for $575,750.
March 2010: Moses sold the home to the Blue Trust for $575,750.
Between 2009 and 2013, Kimberly Wundrum listed the house as her home address in court documents and as the corporate headquarters for a landscaping business in reports she filed with the Indiana Secretary of State.
February 2014: Blue Trust sold the home for $810,000.
8343 Codesa Way
February 2006: Indianapolis Colts purchased the townhouse from Pulte Homes of Indiana for $174,660.
July 2009: Indianapolis Colts transferred the property to Blue Trust "for no consideration."
August 2012: Blue Trust sold the property for $122,500.
In 2007, Kimberly Wundrum listed the townhouse as her home address and corporate headquarters in incorporation papers filed with the Secretary of State for her landscaping business. She also listed the condo as her home address in police reports.
Sources: Marion County property records, Indiana Secretary of State, police reports and court records.