Police, FBI probing Saints allegations

Updated: April 24, 2012, 11:43 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- A joint Louisiana state police and FBI task force is investigating allegations that the New Orleans Saints set up general manager Mickey Loomis' booth in the Superdome so he could listen in on opposing coaches.

State police Col. Mike Edmonson confirmed the joint effort Tuesday after discussing the matter with Dave Welker, special agent in charge at the FBI's New Orleans field office. The two offices began their joint probe before ESPN's story surfaced.

"I thought that was an excellent opportunity to share resources to see if federal or state wiretapping laws were in fact broken," Edmonson said by phone from Baton Rouge. "It's important for the public to know these are allegations at this point. We will thoroughly, expeditiously, but fairly look into whether any laws have been broken. If they have, we'll sit down with the district attorney in that area to determine how to proceed."

Loomis and the Saints have called the allegations "1,000 percent false," and have said they are reviewing legal recourse after an ESPN "Outside The Lines" report on Monday in which anonymous sources described a setup that would have allowed the general manager to eavesdrop on opponents from 2002 to 2004. ESPN could not verify the system was used.

"It's absolutely ludicrous. It's impossible," interim Saints coach Joe Vitt said of the wiretapping allegations on Tuesday. "I've never heard of it before. That's something from 'Star Wars.' When I first heard something about it being a wiretap, I thought they were talking about Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano or something. I didn't even know what they were talking about.

" ... And then to associate Mickey with that? That's irresponsible. It's a shame."

Vitt is serving in head coach Sean Payton's place during Payton's season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation of New Orleans. Vitt himself will have to serve a six-game suspension for his role in the cash-for-big hits system the Saints ran from 2009-11, and Loomis will be out for eight games.

Vitt said he has worked with Loomis 17 years in the NFL, dating to their early days in the league together in Seattle, and that one of the reasons he joined the Saints in 2006 was because he understands Loomis' core beliefs.

"Anybody that ever wants to question Mickey's integrity on something like this. I mean, this is juvenile," Vitt said. "This is so bad, what's been reported, and it's irresponsible. It really is. ... I just know it's not true. I know what Mickey's meant in my life and I know what he's meant in the lives of a lot of people around this league and you can't get anybody to find fault with Mickey Loomis. That's just the truth."

Still, the alleged actions would violate NFL rules, if not state and federal laws.

A person familiar with the situation told The Washington Post on Tuesday that league officials plan to allow the legal process to conclude before taking action. It's the same protocol the NFL normally uses with players involved in legal cases.

Edmonson said he is aware that statutes of limitations -- six years under state wiretapping laws -- may hinder prosecution but added, "Let's find out if any laws have been broken first, and that's what we're doing right now. It's up to us to find out facts and get with the district attorney, who will then decide" if the time to prosecute has passed.

The statute of limitations for federal wiretapping crimes is generally five years.

This is so bad, what's been reported, and it's irresponsible. It really is. ... I just know it's not true. I know what Mickey's meant in my life and I know what he's meant in the lives of a lot of people around this league and you can't get anybody to find fault with Mickey Loomis. That's just the truth

-- Saints interim coach Joe Vitt on GM Mickey Loomis

"Where these allegations take us, we'll certainly go there," Edmonson said. "Out of fairness to the people involved, let's find out if any of these allegations are factual."

Under state law, the only law enforcement agency in Louisiana that can investigate wiretapping violations is the state police.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten in New Orleans also said his office had been told about "general allegations" involving the Saints and possible wiretapping, but he did not elaborate. Letten declined to discuss who made the allegations, and whether they involved Loomis or any other Saints officials.

On Monday, "Outside The Lines" reported the listening device was first installed in the general manager's suite in 2000, when Loomis' predecessor, Randy Mueller, served as Saints GM. At that time, according to sources, Mueller had the ability to use the device to monitor only the game-day communications of the Saints' coaching staff, not the opposing coaches. Mueller, now a senior executive with the San Diego Chargers (he also was an ESPN.com NFL analyst from 2002 to '05), declined to comment when contacted by "Outside the Lines."

After the transition from Mueller to Loomis, the electronic device was re-wired to listen only to opposing coaches and could no longer be used to listen to any game-day communications between members of the Saints' coaching staff, one source said.

"There was a switch, and the switch accessed offense and defense," said the source. "When Randy was there, it was the Saints offense or defense, and when Mickey was there, it changed over so it was the visiting offense or defense," the source said.

Sources said Loomis could plug an earpiece into a jack that was under the desk in front of him and toggle back and forth with a switch that he controlled, enabling him to listen to the game-day communications of either the opposing offensive or defensive coaches.

Also underneath the desk in front of Loomis, said the sources, was a metal box that contained two belt packs similar to those worn around the waists of NFL head coaches during games. The packs powered the listening device available to Loomis, which was, according to sources, hard-wired to the audio feed of the opposing coaches.

The wiring setup was disabled sometime in September 2005 in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.

Aside from potential legal ramifications, under Article No. 9 of the Constitution and Bylaws of the NFL, which lists "Prohibited Conduct," the league specifically bans the use of "videotape machines, telephone tapping or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic device that might aid a team during the playing of a game."

Loomis explained his use of an earpiece and described his game-day setup in the Superdome booth in an emailed statement on Monday afternoon.

He said he has a monitor in his booth that provides the league-issued stats, a small TV with the network broadcast and an earpiece to listen to the local radio broadcast.

"To think I am sitting in there listening and actually ... doing something with the offensive and defensive play calls of the opposing teams makes this story and the unnamed sources that provided the false information that much more less credible," Loomis' statement said. "It just didn't happen."

Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was the Saints' head coach from 2000 through 2005. In a comment the Saints forwarded to the AP by email, Haslett denied knowledge of any system that would have allowed for eavesdropping on opponents.

On Tuesday, former Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi said on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning that he didn't know anything about Loomis listening to opposing coaches.

Informatoin from ESPN.com reporter John Barr, producer David Lubbers, production assistant Danielle DeSousa and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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