Did New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis Illegally Listen In On Visiting Coaches During Games?

ESPN has the story of the accusation:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Louisiana was told Friday that New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had an electronic device in his Superdome suite that had been secretly re-wired to enable him to eavesdrop on visiting coaching staffs for nearly three NFL seasons, “Outside the Lines” has learned.

Sources familiar with Saints game-day operations told “Outside the Lines” that Loomis, who faces an eight-game suspension from the NFL for his role in the recent bounty scandal, had the ability to secretly listen for most of the 2002 season, his first as general manager of the Saints, and all of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The sources spoke with “Outside the Lines” under the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals from members of the Saints organization. . . .

Sources told “Outside the Lines” the listening device was first installed in the general manager’s suite in 2000, when Loomis’ predecessor, Randy Mueller, served as Saints GM. At that time, according to sources, Mueller had the ability to use the device to monitor only the game-day communications of the Saints’ coaching staff, not the opposing coaches. Mueller, now a senior executive with the San Diego Chargers (he also was an ESPN.com NFL analyst from 2002 to ’05), declined to comment when contacted by “Outside the Lines.”

After the transition from Mueller to Loomis, the electronic device was re-wired to listen only to opposing coaches and could no longer be used to listen to any game-day communications between members of the Saints’ coaching staff, one source said.

“There was a switch, and the switch accessed offense and defense,” said the source. “When Randy was there, it was the Saints offense or defense, and when Mickey was there it changed over so it was the visiting offense or defense,” the source said.

The sources said when Loomis took his seat during home games, then in the front row of box No. 4 in the 300 level of the Superdome’s north side, he was able to plug an earpiece into a jack that was under the desk in front of him. The earpiece was not unlike those used to listen to inexpensive transistor radios, the sources said. With the earpiece in place, Loomis could then toggle back and forth with a switch that he controlled, enabling him to listen to the game-day communications of either the opposing offensive or defensive coaches.

Also underneath the desk in front of Loomis, said the sources, was a metal box that contained two belt packs similar to those worn around the waists of NFL head coaches during games. The packs powered the listening device available to Loomis, which was, according to sources, hard-wired to the audio feed of the opposing coaches.

If the report is true, it’s a pretty clear violation of the federal Wiretap Act, also known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The ESPN story has a pretty good run-down of the legal issues. To expand on that coverage a bit, use of the bugging device would constitute an interception of an oral communication under 18 U.S.C. 2510(2), which violates 18 U.S.C. 2511 and would allow both civil and criminal remedies. One difficulty with criminal remedies is the 5-year statute of limitations under federal law. Civil remedies would be easier because the statute of limitations expressly runs from two years “after the date upon which the claimant first has a reasonable opportunity to discover the violation.” See, e.g., Andes v. Knox, 905 F.2d 188, 189 (8th Cir. 1990) (holding that the two-year statute of limitations period under 18 U.S.C. § 2520 begins to run when a party first discovers wiretapping). State law provides its own remedies, too, in addition to those of federal law.