Saints lawsuit headed to arbitration

Updated: May 13, 2010, 8:06 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

GRETNA, La. -- Former New Orleans Saints security director Geoffrey Santini withdrew his lawsuit against the club on Thursday because the team's lawyers are sending the matter to arbitration.

Santini's motion to dismiss the lawsuit stated that Saints attorneys waited more than a week after the lawsuit was initially filed to advise Santini they intended to invoke an arbitration clause in his employment contract rather than fight his civil lawsuit in district court.

In the lawsuit, which was filed April 30, Santini claimed the Saints attempted to cover up both the theft and improper distribution of prescription Vicodin pills at the team's facility.

The change from a civil lawsuit to arbitration is not expected to have any impact on a separate federal probe that was prompted by Santini's allegations. According to his lawsuit, on June 23, 2009, Santini reported the situation to the local U.S. Attorney's office, and that led to an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, a lawyer with knowledge of the case previously told ESPN.

After the lawsuit was filed, the DEA initially confirmed an investigation was pending but later referred all calls to the U.S. Attorney's office, which declined comment. It's unclear the status of the government's probe.

Santini's lawyer, Donald Hyatt II, said going to arbitration blocks either side from publicly discussing the case.

The Saints' decision to seek arbitration also at least temporarily blocks the public release of video and audio recordings that Santini said he made to protect himself and others who were participating in the alleged cover-up for fear of losing their jobs.

Hyatt has said the video shows the theft of Vicodin pills by a senior staff member who was later identified as linebackers coach Joe Vitt. The audio recordings Santini made allegedly caught team trainers Scottie Patton and Kevin Mangum discussing orders from general manager Mickey Loomis to forge entries in official prescription drug logs to cover-up the thefts.

"The sudden assertion of the arbitration agreement ... was somewhat of a surprise given that a draft of the complaint was provided to defendant prior to filing," Santini's motion stated.

"Also of interest, so that the Court may be fully informed, defendant has made one or more press statements or public statements characterizing the action before the Court in a negative way, but ... still did not see fit to assert its arbitral rights, and thereby remove the matter to a more private proceeding" until now, the motion stated.

It was not immediately clear why the Saints did not seek arbitration before Santini went public with allegations that in some cases would a constitute state and federal crimes -- specifically, the theft of prescription drugs and attempts to cover up those thefts.

The team's lawyers did not immediately respond to a question from The Associated Press on that matter.

Saints spokesman Greg Bensel denied the allegations when the lawsuit was filed and said Santini was a disgruntled former employee trying to squeeze the team for money.

Coach Sean Payton also released a statement through the team saying he never stole or abused Vicodin after people familiar with the case identified him as a staff member described in the lawsuit as receiving an excessive number of pills.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the allegations and also identified Vitt as the staff member described in the lawsuit as using a key from Patton's office to steal Vicodin from the team's drug locker.

Santini has said he forwarded evidence he collected in the Vicodin matter to federal authorities before he resigned last August.

Two days after the civil lawsuit was filed, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration told The Associated Press that it was aware of the allegations and that an investigation is pending. Jefferson Parish authorities have not begun an investigation at this time, said Col. John Fortunato, the sheriff's spokesman. Fortunato said the sheriff was not aware of the allegations until the civil lawsuit was filed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ALSO SEE