In a case with potential league-wide ramifications, sports marketer Michael Ornstein is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty this summer to federal charges involving the sale of Super Bowl tickets. The tickets were obtained from people who, "through the course of their employment," had acquired them at face value from 1998 to 2006, according to court documents.
He also pled guilty to fraud in the resale of "game-worn" jerseys that weren't actually worn in games from 2000-03. Although Ornstein's plea deal came in June, the news did not come to light until Tuesday morning when Sports Business Journal first broke the story.
Ornstein faces up to 25 years in prison, although defendants rarely get the maximum time in these cases, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Court documents did not name any individuals who worked with Ornstein to obtain and resell the tickets or the jerseys, but indicated they were "known to the United States Attorney."
"The investigation is ongoing," Mike Tobin, spokesman for the United States Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Ohio told Yahoo! Sports. "Certainly we are exploring all of the avenues."
Prosecutors would not comment on whether Ornstein, 57, was cooperating with investigators. In general terms, Tobin noted that "when someone cooperates, they are given a reduction in sentencing."
Neither Ornstein nor his attorney could be reached for comment. While the league office is keeping relative distance for now – "Any questions about this matter should be directed to the prosecutors that are handling the case in the U.S. Attorney's office in Cleveland," wrote NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello – two league sources indicated there are concerns about the investigation, which could include players and high-ranking executives being implicated. Ornstein is a former league employee who pleaded guilty in 1995 to scheme to defraud the league of $350,000.
"Knowing Orny the way I do, there's no question that he'll do whatever he has to do to save himself, and that could be very bad for a lot of people," one of the aforementioned sources said. "You're talking about a lot of money changing hands. A lot of money and a lot people."
Despite the prior conviction, Ornstein maintained an insider's presence throughout football. He was a regular on NFL and NCAA sidelines, at NFL owner meetings and a confidant to both pro and college players and coaches.
Ornstein, who also once worked for the Raiders, most recently served as marketing agent for New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush(notes). Ornstein was named last summer in the NCAA infractions case against USC for providing extra benefits to Bush and his family during the player's junior season with the Trojans.
Since Bush joined the Saints in 2006, which occurred after these charges, he was "a fixture at practices, games and in the locker room," according to the New Orleans Times Picayune. Saints coach Sean Payton used an entire chapter of his recent book to detail Ornstein's contributions to the team. He was a regular on the USC sidelines and team practices during the hey-day of Pete Carroll's dynasty.
"We will not have any comment on the personal legal issues of Mike Ornstein," wrote Saints spokesman Greg Bensel. "They do not involve the New Orleans Saints organization. He is not an employee of the Saints."
Ornstein was originally set to be sentenced on Aug. 30, according to court records. Tobin said that has been delayed while Ornstein raises $240,000 to pay restitution to the government. He paid an initial $110,000 of a $350,000 fine on June 16, 2010, according to court documents.
The Ornstein case has the potential to ripple across the league. NFL teams, players and league employees receive Super Bowl tickets at face value. Court documents detail that "defendant and others devised a scheme to obtain NFL Super Bowl tickets by paying cash, at greater than face value, to individuals who, through the course of their employment, had obtained Super Bowl tickets at face value." They then "created false documents to cause the individuals from whom the defendant had purchased Super Bowl tickets to make false statements to their employers" before they "sold and distributed the Super Bowl tickets to other individuals for profit."
In the case of the fraud charges on the "game-worn" jerseys, Ornstein acquired official jerseys and sold swathes of the fabric to an unnamed card manufacturer even though the jerseys were never worn in a game. Ornstein also acquired fraudulent authentication documents concerning the jerseys.
Court documents detail a number of specific instances of a person known to the feds sending "an electronic mail message from New York, New York to Berlin, Wisconsin to request a manufacturer send NFL jerseys to Michael L. Ornstein."
The NFL offices are located in New York.