Pranksters who duped Buccaneers, Bills GMs could face jail time

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

A pair of pranksters who set up and then recorded a conversation between two NFL GMs could face jail time after the league ordered an investigation by its legal team.

Tuesday, Deadspin posted a six-minute telephone discussion between Buffalo Bills' Buddy Nix and Mark Dominik of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reportedly recorded by two mischievous and unnamed 20-year-olds who, by the grace of serendipity, set the call up.

Yet while the plot bears all the hallmarks of a cheeky prank by a couple of bored youths, their action may have serious legal ramifications with both state and federal laws taking a dim view of illegal "eavesdropping."

The location of the individuals would decide the exact nature of the offense they could be prosecuted under if the NFL, the clubs and state prosecutors decide to proceed.

However, virtually every state takes a strong stance on matters such as this.

"The New York Penal Code protects individuals against actions such as this with statutes on eavesdropping and interception of communications," said L.A.-based criminal defense attorney Christopher Blaylock.

"Statutes such as these can be open to the interpretation of a court, but a strong case could be made here given that neither party consented to the recording or monitoring of the conversation."

Under New York state law, the actions would likely constitute a non-violent Class E felony, punishable by up to four years imprisonment, according to sentencing guidelines.

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In Florida, the category of offense would likely be a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in jail.

"Our security personnel and attorneys are looking into the matter," confirmed NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. The Bills have also sought legal advice, a spokesman told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday.

Either Nix or Dominik could also seek damages in a civil suit, according to Blaylock.

The law of privacy, particularly in relation to wiretapping and eavesdropping, was largely developed to prevent law enforcement agencies from breaching Fourth Amendment rights with overtly intrusive practices.

Deadspin did not act unlawfully in disseminating the content, with a leading Supreme Court case from 2001 absolving media outlets of liability even if a third party broke the law in obtaining a recording that was subsequently broadcast.

The two youngsters, though, are probably starting to think this was a prank that wasn't really worth it – and that gleefully sharing details of their trickery wasn't the greatest of ideas.

The pair's grand wheeze began when they placed a call to the Bills front office, posing as Dominik, and asking to be put through to Nix. When the call was connected, so the story goes, they panicked and hung up.

However, Nix, believing he had been accidentally cut off, called the number back several times – attempting to reach Dominik.

The pranksters ignored several of his calls before then deciding to try to reach Dominik. In the end, timing conspired to make it almost too perfect for them.

While they were on the phone with Dominik's secretary, Nix phoned once more, enabling the pair to patch the call through, remain silent and record the chat between the GMs on a second device.

Few trade secrets were spilled; Nix revealed his dissatisfaction with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was released by the franchise soon after, and general free-agency chatter ensued.

The GMs eventually swapped cell phone numbers, presumably eliminating the possibility of a future prank involving them. Which is just as well for the 20-year-olds, who might have bigger things to worry about right now.

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