Sources: Saints' GM could eavesdrop

NEW ORLEANS -- The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Louisiana was told Friday that New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had an electronic device in his Superdome suite that had been secretly re-wired to enable him to eavesdrop on visiting coaching staffs for nearly three NFL seasons, "Outside the Lines" has learned.

Sources familiar with Saints game-day operations told "Outside the Lines" that Loomis, who faces an eight-game suspension from the NFL for his role in the recent bounty scandal, had the ability to secretly listen for most of the 2002 season, his first as general manager of the Saints, and all of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The sources spoke with "Outside the Lines" under the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals from members of the Saints organization.

Jim Letten, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, acknowledged being told of the allegations Friday and a spokeswoman says the FBI's New Orleans office is aware of the allegations. If proved, the allegations could be both a violation of NFL rules and potentially a federal crime, according to legal sources. The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 prohibits any person from intercepting communications from another person using an electronic or mechanical device.

"I can say that we were just made aware of that on Friday, at least of these allegations," Letten said. "Anything beyond that I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to comment."

Greg Bensel, Saints vice president of communications, said Monday afternoon on behalf of the Saints and Loomis: "This is 1,000 percent false. This is 1,000 percent inaccurate."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league was unaware of the allegations.

Sources told "Outside the Lines" 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.

"Outside the Lines" could not determine for certain whether Loomis ever made use of the electronic setup.

The sources said when Loomis took his seat during home games, then in the front row of box No. 4 in the 300 level of the Superdome's north side, he was able to plug an earpiece into a jack that was under the desk in front of him. The earpiece was not unlike those used to listen to inexpensive transistor radios, the sources said. With the earpiece in place, Loomis could then 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. The timing of the device's removal could prove significant for legal reasons. If Loomis used an electronic device to secretly listen to the opposing coaches without their consent, it would appear to be a violation of the federal ECPA statute, said Mike Emmick, a Los Angeles-based attorney.

Emmick worked for 25 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, serving for eight years as chief of the public corruption and government fraud section.

"The ECPA bars any person from intentionally intercepting wire, oral or electronic communications by using an electronic or mechanical device," Emmick said. "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."

But the statute of limitations, the window federal prosecutors have to pursue any criminal charges against Loomis or the Saints, would extend for only five years after the date of such an offense, Emmick said.

If Loomis no longer had the ability to eavesdrop on opposing coaches after the 2004 season, he would be free from any potential criminal prosecution for a violation of the ECPA, Emmick said.

Loomis' alleged activity also would be a violation of Louisiana state law, according to Danny Onorato, a former assistant U.S. attorney now in private practice in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in white-collar crime. The statute of limitations for the law governing electronic eavesdropping in Louisiana is six years, Onorato said.

"A prosecutor or law enforcement should conduct a thorough investigation to make sure these are the facts. Did these individuals re-connect this device in some way?" Onorato said.

"At a minimum, somebody somewhere has a duty to investigate it to ensure the integrity of the game of football," he said.

Emmick said that it's possible Loomis and others could still be prosecuted for taking part in a conspiracy to cover up the federal ECPA violation. The statute of limitations for prosecution of a conspiracy is also five years, Emmick said, but that period would begin with the last "overt act" of the parties involved in a conspiracy.

In this case, any attempt to cover up the ECPA violation that extended into 2007 could constitute such an overt act and fall within the window of the statute of limitations, Emmick said.

Emmick and Onorato both said that any prosecution on the basis of a conspiracy to cover up an ECPA violation is unlikely. But there is another potentially far more costly aspect to Loomis' alleged behavior, according to Emmick and other legal sources contacted by ESPN.

"There's the potential for a lot of lawsuits filed by whoever was victimized by the electronic eavesdropping," Emmick said.

Under the civil laws that govern electronic eavesdropping, the victims of the eavesdropping would have two years from the time they had a "reasonable opportunity to discover the violation" in order to file lawsuits, Emmick said.

In other words, if an opposing team or individuals who were eavesdropped upon wanted to sue Loomis or the Saints, the clock would start ticking on their time frame to file a lawsuit when they discovered the alleged ECPA violation, not when the violation actually occurred.

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."

"That would be a stupendous advantage if you had that," said Rick Venturi, who was the team's defensive coordinator during the period the sources said Loomis could eavesdrop on opposing coaches.

"That's shocking," Venturi said, when told of the allegations. "I can tell you if we did it, nobody told me about it. ... Nobody ever helped me during a game."

Venturi served in various capacities during a decade-long period with the Saints' coaching staff, including a brief stint as interim head coach, and now hosts a radio program on an ESPN Radio affiliate in St. Louis.

Former Saints head coach Jim Haslett said in a statement Monday night that he and Loomis never talked about listening in on opposing coaches' conversations.

"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," Haslett said.

Haslett served as the Saints head coach from 2000 to '05 and is now defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins. Sean Payton was named head coach of the Saints in 2006.

Rick Mueller, the brother of former Saints general manager Randy Mueller, was in the Saints' front office from 2000 to '08 and was a regular in Loomis' booth during Saints home games.

"I sat right next to him most of the time," said Mueller, who now serves as a player personnel executive with the Philadelphia Eagles. Mueller said he vaguely recalled Loomis using an earpiece during games but he could not recall whether Loomis ever did so during the period in which sources allege Loomis had the ability to eavesdrop on opponents.

During Saints home games, Loomis typically sat in a seat next to the glass separating the Saints' front office personnel from their assistant coaches. When asked whether Loomis in any way signaled those Saints assistants on the other side of the glass during games, Mueller replied: "I didn't get any indication of that. ... There's no communication going on between Mickey and the coaches during a game I can tell you that. ... If it was just Mickey hearing it, I would see no way he could signal our coaches next door."

In 2002, the Saints compiled a 9-7 record. The team had an 8-8 record during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. In those three seasons combined, the Saints were 12-12 in the Superdome.

The 2005 season remains the infamous one during which the Saints never played a home game in the Superdome due to the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. According to sources, that was also the first time Loomis would not have had the ability to listen in on the play calls of opposing teams. That year the Saints finished 3-13.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has an established track record of issuing severe penalties when teams attempt to skirt the rules.

When it was discovered that the New England Patriots videotaped the New York Jets coaches' signals during a September 2007 game -- the so-called "Spygate" episode -- Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 by the NFL, the maximum amount permitted under league rules.

The Patriots were also fined $250,000 by the NFL, and the team was forced to give up its first-round pick in 2008.

"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field," Goodell wrote at the time in a letter to the Patriots.

Producer David Lubbers and production assistant Danielle DeSousa contributed to this report.