DEA investigates lawsuit allegations

NEW ORLEANS -- Federal authorities are looking into allegations made in a civil lawsuit accusing the New Orleans Saints of trying to cover up a senior staff member's theft of prescription Vicodin pills from the club's training headquarters.

"The DEA was referred this case and there is a pending investigation," said Special Agent Roberto Bryan Jr., a New Orleans-based spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The civil suit was filed Friday by former Saints security director Geoffrey Santini, a retired FBI agent who gave federal authorities evidence he collected before resigning from the team last August.

The accusations also could constitute state offenses, but local authorities say they have yet to begin a probe of their own.

Jefferson Parish sheriff's spokesman Col. John Fortunato said his department did not become aware of the allegations until after the civil lawsuit was filed.

"It hasn't been turned into a criminal investigation as of yet," Fortunato said.

The Saints have said the allegations are false and represent an attempt by Santini, who resigned last August, to shake down the club. Team spokesman Greg Bensel has said the club will aggressively defend itself in court.

Head coach Sean Payton is so far the only member of the franchise other than Bensel to comment on the case.

Payton issued a statement through the team, asserting he has never abused or stolen Vicodin, a narcotic used to relieve moderate to severe pain.

Payton spoke out when people familiar with the lawsuit said the coach was the unidentified person in the complaint who allegedly was permitted to take a large enough amount of Vicodin from the team's drug locker to constitute abuse.

Nothing in the complaint indicated that Payton, who was not named in the lawsuit, had done anything illegal. However, the complaint said another "senior staff member" used a trainer's key to steal Vicodin from the drug locker.

The people who spoke to The Associated Press about the case -- on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the allegations -- said that other staff member was linebackers coach Joe Vitt.

The lawsuit describes video surveillance catching Vitt taking keys from a trainer's office and using them to get into the team's drug locker to take Vicodin.

Vitt did not respond to a message sent to his work e-mail seeking comment. The Saints and their defense lawyers also did not respond to requests for help in contacting Vitt to see if he had anything to say on the matter.

In his lawsuit, Santini claims he was ordered to keep quiet about the Vicodin matter. He also claims two trainers were told by a top team executive to forge entrees in official logs so the amount of Vicodin stolen would be reflected as an amount that had been properly distributed.

Santini said being ordered to either undertake or ignore activity he thought may be criminal was what led him to resign, and he is seeking damages and back pay.

The theft of Vicodin, a narcotic used to relieve moderate to severe pain, is a state and federal offense. Any attempt to cover up such a theft also could constitute a state or federal crime. Failure to report a felony also is a federal crime.

Meanwhile, Saints owner Tom Benson traveled to New York on Sunday in advance of regularly scheduled NFL finance committee meetings. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said there were no immediate plans for commissioner Roger Goodell to meet with Benson about Santini's lawsuit. Aiello said the NFL has a copy of the complaint and is following developments for now.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.