We begin this morning with a headache of headaches for the New Orleans Saints, a story the team has fervently denied, but one that isn’t going away unless the Drug Enforcement Administration makes it go away.
The story involves the dispensation and alleged theft of 130 Vicodin tablets from the Saints’ drug locker at the team’s offices and training facility in New Orleans over a four-month period early in 2009. A lawsuit filed by discharged former Saints’ security director Geoffrey Santini, a former FBI agent, describes the recipients of the Vicodin as “Senior Staff Member A” and “Senior Staff Member B.” On Saturday, profootballtalk.com reported that coach Sean Payton is Senior Staff Member A, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt is Senior Staff Member B.
I’ve read the 13-page lawsuit, filed Friday in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com reported that Santini sought a $2 million settlement to not file the suit last week and the Saints didn’t respond. I’m told the Saints turned over all evidence in the case to the DEA in June and have been waiting for a decision in the case ever since. On Friday, the Saints said the lawsuit had no merit, and that Santini, in effect, had shopped the lawsuit to them before filing it. On Saturday, after the profootballtalk.com report, Payton said, “I have never abused or stolen Vicodin or any other medication.”
The allegations in Santini’s suit, in essence, include these: Vitt had a medical problem that required the use of pain-killers and he was being prescribed Vicodin to help him deal with the condition; Payton didn’t have a medical condition that required pain-killers but was using them. Additionally, Santini said Saints general manager Mickey Loomis covered up Payton’s use of Vicodin while trying to protect Vitt from being prosecuted for stealing additional Vicodin.
Every NFL team has to account for the prescription drugs it dispenses. The training staff keeps medication under lock and key and distributes it only after a team doctor prescribes it. Apparently, Vitt was being prescribed Vicodin — it’s possible that Payton, at some point, may have been taking it as prescribed, too. The lawsuit makes it clear that from January to April 2009, a theft of approximately 110 Vicodin tablets occurred from the drug locker. Santini’s suit says Loomis directed a hidden camera to be installed in the trainer’s room, so any further theft of Vicodin could be captured on video.
On the morning of April 30, 2009, according to the suit, Santini was informed that eight pills were missing from a Vicodin bottle of 100 pills. The videotape showed Senior Staff Member B — Vitt — using the keys from trainer Scottie Patton‘s office to open the drug locker and take eight pills from a bottle of Vicodin.
When Santini told Loomis about the theft, the suit alleges, Loomis told Santini and the trainers “to keep all of this confidential … Plaintiff then told GM Loomis that the video needed to be copied for use during the NFL audit. GM Loomis stated, ‘No, this is not a criminal investigation.’ Plaintiff told Loomis the event should be reported and without copying the video it would eventually be overwritten by the recording equipment and erased. Loomis told the Plaintiff to ‘let it go,’ in effect instructing the Plaintiff to allow the destruction of evidence of a felony. Plaintiff then told GM Loomis that the crime should be reported, and he [Loomis] stated ‘this is not a criminal investigation.” GM Loomis left plaintiff’s office and plaintiff made a copy of the video onto a video cassette.”
After “SSMB” was caught taking 12 pills the next day, the bottle was moved to a more secure location. The following day SSMB was taped unsuccessfully trying to gain access to the pills. Santini alleges that Patton, in a meeting two weeks later, was going to adjust the dispensing logs “to reflect that SSMB had received all of the missing Vicodin, such that the totals on the monthly recap sheets would match the total dispensed.” The suit says that in a meeting the next day, assistant trainer Kevin Mangum told Santini of the directive to adjust the logs, adding, “I think, I think it came from Mickey.”
Payton’s involvement in the case seems almost tangential. Most of the accusations concern Vitt allegedly stealing the Vicodin and Santini describing Loomis trying to cover it up. On page six of the suit, Santini asks Mangum, referring to Payton, “How are they going to explain [SSMA]?”
“He’s stopped,” Mangum said, according to the suit. “Somebody has talked to him.”
On June 22, the suit alleges, Patton told Santini he would not change the logs, and a day later, Loomis told Santini the logs would not be changed before being turned in to the NFL for an annual audit. “Later in the conversation, GM Loomis stated that [SSMB] admitted to him that [SSMB] had stolen all of the pills,” the suit says.
Later, the suit says, “Subsequent conversations ensued between plaintiff and GM Loomis concerning upcoming discussions with the DEA about the situation and the need to keep [SSMA]’s name out of the conversation.”
There you have it. The consequences could be dire for several people — Loomis, if he’s found to have covered up a felony theft of prescription medication; Vitt, if he’s found guilty of stealing Vicodin; the trainers, if they’re found culpable; and Payton, if he’s found to have taken Vicodin without a prescription. Of course, the consequences could be just as dire for Santini if counter-claims by the Saints reveal the story he has told is exaggerated or invented.
“Mickey is adamant he did nothing wrong,” said a source close to the Saints. “Sean is beside himself — he swears this is a trumped-up charge.”
Every New Orleans fan this morning — as well as a nation charmed by the improbable story of the Super Bowl Saints — has to hope that’s true.