Payton denies allegations in lawsuit

Updated: May 2, 2010, 7:56 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- Less than three months after their thrilling victory in the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints have been accused by their former security director of trying to cover up the theft of prescription pain pills from the club's drug locker.

One of those involved was head coach Sean Payton, two people familiar with the case told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the suit. Payton and the Saints denied the allegations, and Payton was not named in court papers.

Special Agent Roberto Bryan Jr., a New Orleans-based spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, confirmed Sunday that the agency was referred the case and an investigation into the allegation of a break-in of the Saints' medical cabinets with Vicodin stolen is pending.

A lawyer with knowledge of the situation told ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada that the DEA's investigation involved allegations that members of the coaching staff were implicated in the break-in.

Payton I have never abused or stolen Vicodin or any other medication and I fully support the Saints' position in this matter.

-- Saints coach Sean Payton

The lawyer did not say which coaches were under suspicion. The lawyer had no knowledge of the state of the DEA's investigation.

The accusations also could constitute state offenses. However, local authorities say they have yet to begin a probe of their own. Jefferson Parish sheriff's spokesman Col. John Fortunato said Sunday no criminal investigation has begun.

The lawsuit, filed Friday by Geoffrey Santini, a former FBI agent who resigned from the club in August 2009, alleged one senior staff member stole Vicodin pills while another was given an amount large enough to constitute abuse.

The suit did not name the staff members. However, the two people familiar with the case said Payton allegedly was allowed to take a large quantity of pills from the team supply, and another staff member allegedly stole pills. No allegations were made against any Saints players, the two people said.

Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said the allegations are false and the club will aggressively defend itself in court. And Payton, who was at his vacation home in Watercolor, Fla., on Saturday, denied any wrongdoing.

"I have reviewed Geoff Santini's lawsuit and the unwarranted publicity it has received," Payton said in a statement released by the team. "I have never abused or stolen Vicodin or any other medication and I fully support the Saints' position in this matter."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that while the league had not read the complaint, "we are aware of the lawsuit and that the Saints reject the claims as false."

The theft of Vicodin, a narcotic used to relieve moderate to severe pain, is a state and federal offense. Any attempt to cover up such a theft also could constitute a state or federal crime. Failure to report a felony also is a federal crime.

Santini's attorney, Donald Hyatt II, said he was not aware if any criminal charges had been filed. He said if there was a sealed indictment it would not have been made public.

Santini reported the possible violations to federal authorities on June 23, 2009. He resigned from the Saints on Aug. 16, 2009, and first alerted the Saints of his intent to sue the club on Sept. 14, Hyatt said.

Santini worked 31 years for the FBI. His lawsuit says he resigned from the Saints because of a disagreement over the team's handling of the Vicodin episode.

Santini is seeking damages and back pay.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.