NEW ORLEANS — A joint Louisiana state police and FBI task force is investigating allegations that the New Orleans Saints set up general manager Mickey Loomis’ booth in the Superdome so he could listen in on opposing coaches.
State police Col. Mike Edmonson confirmed the joint effort Tuesday after discussing the matter with Dave Welker, special agent in charge at the FBI’s New Orleans field office.
“I thought that was an excellent opportunity to share resources to see if federal or state wiretapping laws were in fact broken,” Edmonson said by phone from Baton Rouge, La. “It’s important for the public to know these are allegations at this point. We will thoroughly, expeditiously, but fairly look into whether any laws have been broken. If they have, we’ll sit down with the district attorney in that area to determine how to proceed.”
Loomis and the Saints have called the allegations “1000 percent false,” and have said they are reviewing legal recourse following an ESPN report Monday in which anonymous sources described a setup that would have allowed the general manager to eavesdrop on opponents from 2002 to 2004. ESPN could not verify the system was used.
Still, the alleged actions would violate NFL rules, if not state and federal laws.
Edmonson said he is aware that statutes of limitations — six years under state wiretapping laws — may hinder prosecution but added, “Let’s find out if any laws have been broken first, and that’s what we’re doing right now. It’s up to us to find out facts and get with the district attorney, who will then decide” if the time to prosecute has passed.
The statute of limitations for federal wiretapping crimes is generally five years.
“Where these allegations take us, we’ll certainly go there,” Edmonson said. “Out of fairness to the people involved, let’s find out if any of these allegations are factual.”
Under state law, the only law enforcement agency in Louisiana that can investigate wiretapping violations is the state police.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten in New Orleans also said his office had been told about “general allegations” involving the Saints and possible wiretapping, but he did not elaborate. Letten declined to discuss who made the allegations, and whether they involved Loomis or any other Saints officials.
Loomis explained his use of an earpiece and described his game-day setup in the Superdome booth in an emailed statement on Monday afternoon.
He said he has a monitor in his booth that provides the league-issued stats, a small TV with the network broadcast and an earpiece to listen to the local radio broadcast.
“To think I am sitting in there listening and actually … doing something with the offensive and defensive play calls of the opposing teams makes this story and the unnamed sources that provided the false information that much more less credible,” Loomis’ statement said. “It just didn’t happen.”
Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was the Saints’ head coach from 2000 through 2005. In a comment the Saints forwarded to the AP by email, Haslett denied knowledge of any system that would have allowed for eavesdropping on opponents.
The Saints have been in trouble since early March, when the NFL released a report describing a crunch-for-cash bounty system that provided improper cash bonuses to defensive players who delivered hits that hobbled targeted opponents.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season in connection with the bounty probe. Loomis was suspended for the first half of the regular season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended six games.
The team also lost its second-round pick in this week’s NFL draft and was fined $500,000. Goodell took away the Saints’ second-round pick in 2013 as well, but has said he may lessen that punishment if he is satisfied with the club’s cooperation in the ongoing investigation.
The NFL still has yet to hand down punishment to between 22 and 27 current and former Saints defensive players whom the league has said participated in the bounty program.