While state police and the FBI started a wiretapping probe into the Saints and general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt called allegations that Loomis’ had his Superdome booth wired so he could listen to opposing coaches ”ludicrous.”
”It’s absolutely ludicrous. It’s impossible,” Vitt said Tuesday. ”I’ve never heard of it before. That’s something from `Star Wars.’ When I first heard something about it being a wiretap, I thought they were talking about Sammy ”the Bull” Gravano or something. I didn’t even know what they were talking about.”
”… And then to associate Mickey with that? That’s irresponsible. It’s a shame.”
Vitt met with reporters for the first time since being appointed to serve in head coach Sean Payton’s place during Payton’s season-long suspension in connection with the NFL’s bounty investigation of New Orleans. Vitt himself will have to serve a six-game suspension for his role in the cash-for-big hits system the Saints ran from 2009-11, and Loomis will be out for eight games.
The bounty probe is unrelated to the investigation a joint Louisiana state police and FBI task force opened after being made aware of anonymous allegations from an ESPN report that Loomis was able eavesdrop on opposing coaches’ radio communications from 2002 to 2004.
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. ”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 the report by ESPN, which could not verify the system was used.
Vitt said he has worked with Loomis 17 years in the NFL, dating to their early days in the league together in Seattle, and that one of the reasons he joined the Saints in 2006 was because he understands Loomis’ core beliefs.
”Anybody that ever wants to question Mickey’s integrity on something like this. I mean, this is juvenile,” Vitt said. ”This is so bad, what’s been reported, and it’s irresponsible. It really is. … I just know it’s not true. I know what Mickey’s meant in my life and I know what he’s meant in the lives of a lot of people around this league and you can’t get anybody to find fault with Mickey Loomis. That’s just the truth.”
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 Louisiana law, the only law enforcement agency in Louisiana that can investigate wiretapping violations is the state police.
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.