New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, one of several Saints officials and coaches sanctioned by the NFL for their part in the bounty scandal, may face additional trouble after a report of allegations that he used a device to listen in on opposing coaches during games.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Louisiana was told Friday that, for nearly three years, Loomis had electronic equipment in his Superdome suite secretly modified to allow him to listen to what visiting coaches were saying, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported Monday.
For most of the 2002 season, which was Loomis' first at the Saints general manager, and for all of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, Loomis had the ability to secretly listen to those conversations, according to the report.
Loomis has already been suspended for eight games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and it remains to be seen whether this will result in any legal or league sanctions. (Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, and Gregg Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator who was at the center of the bounty allegations, has been suspended indefinitely.)
Jim Letten, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, told ESPN he has been informed of the allegations regarding Loomis' use of the device, and sources told ESPN, he has forwarded that information to the FBI. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 makes it a crime to intercept communications from another person using an electronic or mechanical device.
The Saints claim the report is inaccurate. On Monday, Greg Bensel, Saints vice president of communications, told ESPN, "This is 1,000 percent false. This is 1,000 percent inaccurate."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league was unaware of the allegations.
Jim Haslett, now the defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, was the Saints head coach from 2000 to 2005, but ESPN was unable to contact him for comment.
According to the ESPN report, which relied on unnamed sources, the electronic device was installed in the general manager's suite in 2000, when Randy Mueller was the Saints general manager.
But Mueller could only monitor the game-day communications of the Saints coaching staff the way the device was configured at the time.
Sometime after Mueller left and Loomis was hired, the device was re-wired so conversations among opposing coaches was all that could be heard through the equipment.
"There was a switch, and the switch accessed offense and defense," the source told ESPN. "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."
Loomis allegedly listened through an earpiece attached to jack at his seat in his suite, and he could listen to either the opposing offensive or defensive coaches by manipulating a lever.
The device was disabled in September 2005 after Hurricane Katrina ran through the Gulf Coast.
"The ECPA bars any person from intentionally intercepting wire, oral or electronic communications by using an electronic or mechanical device," attorney Mike Emmick told ESPN. "The ECPA doesn't make it illegal just to eavesdrop. You have to have used a device ... Intentional interception by using the device is the key."
However, the statute of limitations may prevent Loomis from being prosecuted, so the timing of the device's use is critical.
Emmick said Loomis and others could be prosecuted if they attempted to cover up the federal ECPA violation, and there is also the possibility of lawsuits being filed by the victims.
How the NFL will respond is another issue. NFL rules prohibit 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."
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 by the NFL when it discovered the Patriots had videotaped the New York Jets' coaches' signals. The Patriots also were fined $250,000 by the NFL, and they had to relinquish a first-round pick in the 2008 draft.