NEW YORK - New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, already suspended by the NFL as part of a pay-to-injure scheme, also could secretly eavesdrop on rival coaches, ESPN reported on Monday.
Citing unnamed sources familiar with the Saints' home game operations, the US-based sports broadcaster reported the US Attorney's Office in Louisiana was told that Loomis listened to visiting coaches for almost three NFL seasons.
The latest scandal to surround the Saints adds another taint of cheating to a team that captured a 2010 Super Bowl title to raise the spirits of a city still rebuilding from the devastation of 2005 flooding after Hurricane Katrina.
It also comes three days before the Saints try to add to their roster through the annual NFL Draft, where unclaimed talent is allocated to NFL clubs in reverse order of their finish from the prior season.
According to ESPN, Loomis had a device in his suite at the Superdome, the team's home stadium, re-wired to allow him to eavesdrop on opposing coaches in most of the 2002 season as well as in the 2003 and 2004 campaigns.
If it was proven that Loomis actually eavesdropped on opposing coaches, the actions would not only violate NFL rules but also federal electronic communications privacy laws, provided it fell within the statue of limitations.
"This is 1,000 percent false. This is 1,000 percent inaccurate," Saints spokesman Greg Bensel told ESPN of the eavesdropping claims.
The Saints, whose home stadium will host next year's Super Bowl, are already awaiting NFL officials to decide upon punishments for players who were involved in the bounty scheme that has already hit the team hard.
Saints coach Sean Payton was banned for the entire upcoming NFL season while Loomis was suspended for eight games and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games. Vitt was named Payton's replacement once his suspension is completed.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, instigator of the pay-for-injury programme that ran from 2009 through 2011, has been banned indefinitely. He can seek reinstatement after next season.
ESPN reported that a switch was altered after Loomis was made the general manager in 2002 that allowed him to listen not to his team's coaches but to opposing offensive and defensive coaches.
Damage done to the arena after Hurricane Katrina struck the area disabled the system, but teams might not have a statute of limitations begin until they became aware of possible violations rather than the date they took place.
If there was any extra knowledge by Loomis of what opposing teams were going to do, it had little impact on the Saints' outcomes. The team went 12-12 in the Superdome in the 2002-2004 seasons, 25-23 overall.
An eavesdropping scandal harkens to the "Spygate" scandal uncovered in 2007 when the New England Patriots were found to have videotaped the coaching signals of the New York Jets in a September game.
The NFL fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000, the maximum possible, and punished the team by making it forfeit a first-round NFL Draft selection in 2008 as well as pay a $250,000 fine.
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