The New Orleans Saints, already embroiled in a scandal over payments to players to injure opponents, now face an allegation that General Manager Mickey Loomis had a device in his box at the Superdome that allowed him to listen to conversations between opposing coaches during games for more than two seasons.
The Saints denied the allegation, which was reported by ESPN, and a league spokesman said the NFL was not aware of the accusation before it was reported.
ESPN reported that Loomis’s suite was re-wired to enable him to eavesdrop electronically, through an earpiece, on opposing coaches’ conversations during much of the 2002 season and all of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The setup would violate NFL rules and, according to the ESPN report, could violate federal laws governing the privacy of electronic communications.
ESPN said it could not determine whether Loomis had ever used the device. According to the ESPN report, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Louisiana, Jim Letten, acknowledged being told Friday about the accusations and has briefed the FBI in New Orleans about them.
Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said the report “is 1,000 percent false [and] completely inaccurate. We asked ESPN to provide us evidence to support their allegations and they refused. The team and Mickey are seeking all legal recourse regarding these false allegations.”
Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications, said the league had no prior knowledge of the eavesdropping allegation.
Loomis was suspended for eight games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the bounty scandal. The league concluded that Saints players received cash payments the last three seasons for hits that injured opponents. Loomis’s suspension will begin after the preseason.
Saints Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season for his role in the bounty scandal. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games but will be interim head coach the rest of the year. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely. Disciplinary measures against players have not yet been announced.
Payton was not with the team during the period in which Loomis is alleged to have had access to opponents’ coaching conversations. The Saints’ coach at the time was Jim Haslett, now the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.
In a written statement, Haslett said: “At no time during my tenure as head coach with the New Orleans Saints did Mickey [Loomis] and I discuss monitoring opposing team coaches communication, nor did I have any knowledge of this. To my knowledge this concept was never discussed or utilized.”
According to the ESPN report, the listening device first was installed in the general manager’s suite at the Superdome in 2000 but initially, under former GM Randy Mueller, could be used only to monitor the electronic communications of Saints coaches during games. The device was re-wired after Loomis succeeded Mueller, according to the report, to enable monitoring of the communications of opposing coaches. The device was disabled in September 2005, according to the report.
Goodell fined the New England Patriots and their coach, Bill Belichick, a total of $750,000 in 2007 for improperly videotaping opponents’ coaching signals. The Patriots also were stripped of a first-round draft choice in the “Spygate” scandal.
The Saints were fined $500,000 and lost a pair of second-round draft picks in the bounty case.