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Notes from the Mike Cerullo sworn statement

Tracy Porter, Mike Cerullo, Mike Mallory, Tony Oden, AP

It was much easier to follow all of the developments in the Saints’ bounty scandal during the offseason, when games weren’t, you know, being played.  It’s harder to find the time necessary to delve into the nooks and crannies of the case during the season, but I’ve finally managed to sit down and scrutinize the sworn statements submitted by former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

For each document, I’ve taken notes from the perspective of a lawyer representing the four players who now face reissued suspensions:  Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove.

1.  At paragraph 2, Cerullo’s statement says that he worked for the Saints from April 2007 until April 2010.  He doesn’t address why he left the Saints in April 2010.  So why did he leave?  Was he fired or did he quit?  Is there anything in his personnel file that would suggest issues with honesty?  Did he leave with an axe to grind?

2.  At paragraph 2, Cerullo says he worked as an offensive assistant from 2007 to 2008, and that he became a defensive quality control coach in 2009.  Why did he switch from one side of the ball to the other?  If it wasn’t working out on offense, why didn’t the Saints just let him go?

3.  At paragraph 3, Cerullo says he’s “aware of and [has] provided additional information about the program to NFL investigators.”  What other information is he aware of and what else has he provided?

4.  At paragraph 3, Cerullo says he was assigned the task of administering the pay-for-performance program.  Did he have any qualms about the program?  Did he raise with Gregg Williams or anyone else the question of whether it complies with NFL rules?  Did he report to his former bosses on offense what was happening?

5.  At paragraph 5, Cerullo says dues of $100 were assessed on all participants in the program, before each game, along with fines for mental errors, lack of hustle, and a missed opportunity for a big play.  Who gave money, and how much did each person give?  Why haven’t they all been disciplined?

6.  At paragraph 9, Cerullo says that he was responsible for physically handing out the cash to players.  Who received cash, and how much did they receive?  Why haven’t they all been disciplined?

7.  At paragraph 10, Cerullo says his duties included keeping track of dues and fees owed, and that he made slides reminding players of overdue game dues and fines.  Again, who paid money into the program, and why haven’t they all been disciplined?

8.  At paragraph 11, Cerullo says that he was the “lower court” for disputes about fines and payouts.  Who made complaints about money paid in and money received?

9.  At paragraph 13, Cerullo says that Vilma produced “two five stacks” (i.e., $10,000) for anyone who knocked Kurt Warner out of the divisional playoff game, and that Cerullo collected the money and gave it to Williams for safekeeping.  Where did the money come from?  Was it Vilma’s own money, or did it come from someone else?  Was it money from the pay-for-performance pool?  Did Vilma engage in the exercise on his own or at the urging of someone else, like Williams?

10.  At paragraph 14, Cerullo says that the money wasn’t paid because Warner wasn’t knocked out of the game.  But he was, returning to the game later.  So was any of the money (or any other money) paid out as a “cart-off” to Bobby McCray, who applied the post-interception hit to Warner?  If not, why not?

11.  At paragraph 15, Cerullo says that Fujita and Smith pledged money to the general pool in the meeting before the 2009 NFC title game, and that Cerullo was keeping track of the pledges.  Why does Cerullo’s statement not mention his handwritten notes indicating that assistant head coach Joe Vitt pledged $5,000?  Why did the NFL not discipline Vitt for this, or even investigate it?  Why weren’t the notes attached as an exhibit to the sworn statement?

12.  At paragraph 16, Cerullo says he involved in communications aimed at concealing the program from the league.  He says he was told to delete documents regarding the pay-for-performance program from his computer, and that he was present for a meeting between Vitt and Hargrove, during which Hargrove was told to deny any knowledge of the pay-for-performance program, and Hargrove said, “I can lie with the best of them.”  If the allegations in Vilma’s lawsuit regarding Cerullo are accurate, why did the Saints include him in these communications?  Why didn’t the Saints negotiate a severance package that allowed him to talk about his employment with the Saints only if subject to a court order?

That last part, while irrelevant to the facts of the case, is perhaps the most amazing.  Regardless of why Cerullo spoke to the league and whether what he said is accurate, it’s common for employers to offer extra money to employees who may be disgruntled and/or who may know to much both to avoid a lawsuit and to buy their silence going forward.

Over the years, it’s become obvious that the Saints have a problem with disgruntled employees who are motivated to take action against the team.  The Saints also have a problem, in our view, in the legal department.  The Saints never should have let Cerullo leave without ensuring that he wouldn’t be able to blab later, and the lesson for the Saints and every other NFL team (and every other employer) is to be sure that procedures are in place to spot those employees who know enough to cause trouble later — and to ensure that they legally can share that knowledge only if legally required to do so.

In this case, if Cerullo had received, say, an extra $10,000 in exchange for his silence, none of this ever would have come to light.

None of this makes the pay-for-performance program right or wrong.  It’s just a basic reality of managing risk and limiting potential liabilities.  In this case, someone should have realized that Cerullo could be a problem later.  In the movies, Cerullo would have been whacked.  In the real world, Cerullo would have gotten some extra money in his final paycheck and he would have signed a 10-page document that included language preventing him from blowing whistles or otherwise talking to anyone about anything unless and until he was legally required to do so.

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41 Responses to “Notes from the Mike Cerullo sworn statement”
  1. sixjak says: Sep 19, 2012 11:27 AM

    Maybe we should stop living in this world of moral relativity and start living with a bigger measure of moral clarity of basic honesty and the golden rule.

  2. dohpey28 says: Sep 19, 2012 11:28 AM

    Players don’t get in trouble for a pay for performance scheme. The team does. However, for a pay for injury scheme, aka BOUNTY program, everyone involved is subject to discipline.

    Who cares what his motives are for coming forward, the NFL is a better, safer place for it’s players because he did. It is not all about the poor Saints.

  3. dadawg77 says: Sep 19, 2012 11:30 AM

    Doesn’t saying the Saints should have paid him hush money assume he is telling the truth? The fact that the Saints didn’t last him off can be circumstantial evidence that he didn’t know anything that could hurt the org and is lying now as much as it could be used to show that the coaching staff his this from upper management because they knew out was wrong.

  4. touchdownroddywhite says: Sep 19, 2012 11:32 AM

    Some good points in there. The Saints have gotten a lot of credit since Katrina for being a well run team, when it’s obvious from top to bottom that they are anything but. From allegations of vicodin theft, to wire tapping, to pay-for-performance, they’ve dropped the ball so many times I’m starting to think they’re Pierre Garcon.

  5. petehemlock says: Sep 19, 2012 11:32 AM

    Guess who has a bounty on him now.

  6. robf2010 says: Sep 19, 2012 11:41 AM

    One other question: If he was that deeply involved, why isn’t the NFL disciplining him instead of commending him. Ginsberg is going to have fun with that guy.

  7. blackngold4life says: Sep 19, 2012 11:43 AM

    Did Cerullo bring this to the NFL,or did he just comply with an on going investigation?

  8. dvdman123 says: Sep 19, 2012 11:45 AM

    Maybe the Saints had nothing hide so why have him sign any agreement when they canned him?

  9. steviemo says: Sep 19, 2012 11:45 AM

    All of this information and the Greg Williams affidavit make Vilma and the other players look like the biggest liars in NFL history.

    Notice that the players always say, “We never paid anyone to hurt any player.” That’s just semantics. They DID have bounties to knock opposing players out of games, although you could say it was never to necessarily “hurt” them.

    Based on all these lies — and the lawsuit — I’d ban Vilma for life.

  10. andrewsherylandharry says: Sep 19, 2012 11:46 AM

    The Saints never should have let Cerullo leave without ensuring that he wouldn’t be able to blab later, and the lesson for the Saints and every other NFL team (and every other employer) is to be sure that procedures are in place to spot those employees who know enough to cause trouble later.

    This all sounds a little ‘Godfathery’ no? They should make him an offer he can’t refuse.

  11. clssylssy says: Sep 19, 2012 11:47 AM

    As an attorney questioning Cerullo about the circumstances of his “release” from employment with the Saints, it would be very telling to ask him if he every threatened to “get back” at the Saints organization and Coach Joe Vitt for his “release” and get seek revenge in the future. Also, the reasons for his “release” and his relationship to the guy who got the jail time are very telling about the character and integrity of the person the NFL seems to be hanging their case upon. As they say, goes to establishing credibility of the witness!More and more, I am really wanting to see this move forward to a trial. I previously thought this would be detrimental to the game but clearly this is the only way the facts are ever going to be revealed and the truth unmasked.

  12. sj39 says: Sep 19, 2012 11:50 AM

    When did all this bounty scandal stuff take place? I’ve never heard of it.

  13. bigjdve says: Sep 19, 2012 11:50 AM

    Personally I believe that the entire Saints team is guilty of being a party to/or participating with this Pay for Performance program. So why they didn’t just hammer the whole team, who knows.

    While I have been very cynical of your reviews of this situation to this point, the questions you raise are really good and should be addressed if not in the initial hearing then in the appeal hearing.

    One other question does need to be asked. If as Cerullo says each player was required to pay $100 a week, why did only 4 get nailed?

    If I were one of the 4 players, that would be one of the first questions that I would ask.

  14. lightcleric says: Sep 19, 2012 11:51 AM

    Thank you for breaking this down(and the bounty thing in general) from the legal angle. A lot of other places won’t do this kind of analysis because they think it would “bore” their readers.

  15. musicman495 says: Sep 19, 2012 12:01 PM

    So this is the NFL’s entire case? Taking the word of one disgruntled loser, and Williams’s statement from four days ago? Where are the other 49,950 pages? And why does the Commissioner consider this guy’s word any more reliable than Vilma’s, and the 30 other witnesses that Ginsberg says he has that say this never happened?

  16. yooperman says: Sep 19, 2012 12:24 PM

    From a legal view, somebody has commit a felony by lying. If it is true, it also a felony to crossing state lines to attemp to injure someone. It’s time to turn this over to FBI.

  17. mcarter0399 says: Sep 19, 2012 12:33 PM

    For all of you people thinking this guy is lying please tell me why Greg Williams would admit to a bounty program while getting baned for life from the NFL? Don’t you think if this stuff wasn’t true he would have gone down with a fight instead of admitting that this stuff was going on?

  18. crawfishtale says: Sep 19, 2012 12:35 PM

    Mike Florio, you should be a lawyer. (I know.) You help those of us who learn our football and lawyer stuff only from watching TV, which is awfully inadequate to be real good at understanding that stuff…….Recalling the old Alka Seltzer commercial featuring the prison inmates banging their silverware on the lunch tables in perfect time and shouting their demand for ALKA SELTZER!! ALKA SELTZER!, I am banging my keyboard buttons and shouting my demand also: TRIAL! TRIAL!

  19. gbmickey says: Sep 19, 2012 12:38 PM

    Once again we hear the biased view against the league. It would be refreshing to see some balanced lawyering on the subject.

  20. savocabol1 says: Sep 19, 2012 12:41 PM

    This is why lawyers make so much money….they waste everyone’s time. So many of your follow up questions are conjecture and unnecessary.

  21. jaltreality says: Sep 19, 2012 12:43 PM

    “For all of you people thinking this guy is lying please tell me why Greg Williams would admit to a bounty program while getting baned for life from the NFL? Don’t you think if this stuff wasn’t true he would have gone down with a fight instead of admitting that this stuff was going on?”

    He is banned indefinitely, not for life. His reinstatement in the league is at the sole discretion of Roger Goodell. Thus, it would make sense to play ball with Goodell in order to curry the favor needed to be reinstated.

  22. jaltreality says: Sep 19, 2012 12:47 PM

    Along with Vilma and the players, there are a total of 10 sworn affidavits alleging there was no pay-to-injure program within the New Orleans Saints. I am sure many others (Sean Payton, Vitt, etc.) would testify on the player behalf, if they weren’t keeping relatively tight-lipped to avoid the wrath of Roger Goodell.

    There are two affidavits being offered by the NFL. One is Gregg Williams’ affidavit. As I mentioned above, Gregg Williams is banned until Roger Goodell decides otherwise, so it is reasonable to be skeptical as to the genuineness of his affidavit. The second, Mike Cerullo, appears to be a disgruntled employee.

    My point is, if you don’t let your fandom get in the way of your logic, if you treat this objectively, this is a shaky basis to ban and penalize the Saints. Personally, I think what the Saints did is a clear, albeit it technical, violation of salary cap restrictions, but is likely common among the league.

    However, the increased awareness of concussions and their aftermath, which may one day spell the end of our beloved NFL, is a very real issue Mr. Goodell must deal with. The Saints were in the wrong place at the wrong time; their behavior did violate the rules, but their disproportionate punishment reflects the need for Mr. Goodell to make an example out of someone, in order to appear concerned about concussions and stave off the (likely inevitable) for a while longer.

  23. bearflagfan says: Sep 19, 2012 12:49 PM

    Most of these questions are irrelevant to the way this issue is playing out. This won’t be adjudicated to a jury that may be swayed by the character of the primary witness (i.e. Brian McNamee’s credibility in the Roger Clemens steroid trial). Instead, the final judge will either be Roger Goddell or an admin law judge, and if there’s corroborating evidence to back Cerullo’s testimony it doesn’t matter if he has an axe to grind or not. Most of these other “questions” are so obviously answered on the surface, it seems a waste of time to ask so many straw-man questions when there’s other, real stories out there.
    – Employment ended April 2010. Duh, we know NFL fiscal years start April 1, so if someone’s contract isn’t renewed that’s when it happened.
    – Most of the ‘issues’ of pay-for-performance are chump change and, while technically against NFL rules, would only have merited a slap on the hand, possibly a small fine. Nobody cares about fining someone $100 for being lazy or getting $100 for a great tackle. It was incentivizing players to cause injuries to key opponents (Warner, Favre, Rodgers). The other stuff just establishes an ongoing culture of fines/reward for all types of play – a “gateway drug” if you will.
    – Do you actually think Saints lawyers know what goes on? Why would an HR lawyer consider paying hush money? Remember, also, in most jurisdictions if you are paid extra to keep quiet, and you talk, you generally can’t be sued for more than the extra settlement. Paying $10K to keep someone quiet isn’t worth it – the best you can do is sue them for the $10K back and it would cost the club $50K to do it…and you’d look bad doing it. (Headline: Saints Sue Whistle Blower Over Hush Money). So real hush money doesn’t become effective until its in the six figures.

    So, Mike, you’re the Saints attorney. In 2010, when the NFL investigation of pay-for-performance is completed, you’re going to the owner to say, hey, just to be safe lets pay this low-level, three-year employee a $100,000 severance to assure he doesn’t reveal anything. The only severance package they’d be assembling is yours for such a crazy notion.

    But now lets say in a moment of idiocy they approve either a $10K or $100K non-disclosure agreement (NDA) payment. NFL investigators end up talking to Cerullo. NFL: “We understand you may know something about the Saints pay-for-performance program. Cerullo: “Sorry guys but I signed an NDA that doesn’t allow me to discuss what happened while I was a Saints employee.” NFL investigator calls Goddell, who calls the Saints and requests the Saints waive their NDA to complete the investigation. Saints must comply or the NFL will get a court order – there’s no upside to pay an NDA – at least in relation to hiding things from the NFL.

    Mike, you have great knowledge in so many areas but your expertise in HR settlements isn’t up to speed.

    Stick to your strengths.

  24. yingers308 says: Sep 19, 2012 12:54 PM

    The reason Cerullo was fired was because he lied. Maybe the Saints should have taken his threat to get revenge more seriously, but I guess they didn’t think people (RG) would believe a known liar.

  25. gochargersgo says: Sep 19, 2012 1:14 PM

    It is mystifying to read all of these comments suggesting that the Saints did not pay Cerullo severance because they had nothing to hide. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Goodell’s punishment/ handling of this case, to suggest that no illicit program existed is nothing short of delusional.

  26. gochargersgo says: Sep 19, 2012 1:29 PM

    People are questioning the validity of the sworn statements by Cerullo and Williams based on the obvious motives they both have to cooperate with the league. Fair enough.

    But how are you going use the fact that Vilma has 10 sworn statements exonerating him as the foundation for your counter-argument? Those are his friends’ and teammates’ statements. They hold no more water than Williams’ or Cerullo’s statements, regardless if he has 1, 10, or 100.

  27. wiley16350 says: Sep 19, 2012 1:32 PM

    One other question: If he was that deeply involved, why isn’t the NFL disciplining him instead of commending him. Ginsberg is going to have fun with that guy.
    ___________________________________
    Because Cerullo no longer works in the NFL.

    Did Cerullo bring this to the NFL,or did he just comply with an on going investigation?
    __________________________________
    I think it’s clear that Cerullo brought this to the NFL and thats why there was an investigation. There was no NFL conspiracy against the Saints, maybe a Cerullo one but not the NFL.

    One other question does need to be asked. If as Cerullo says each player was required to pay $100 a week, why did only 4 get nailed?
    __________________________________
    Vilma was nailed for the $10,000 for injury. Fujita and Smith were nailed for extra money that they pledged prior to the 2009 NFC championship. presumably for knocking Favre out. Hargrove was penalized for outright lying to Goodell when he was brought to the league office during the investigation. All the other players can only be associated with pay for performance. Vilma, Smith and Fujita are associated with paying for injury to Favre and/or Warner.

  28. mogogo1 says: Sep 19, 2012 2:02 PM

    Who didn’t see this day coming? Sure, it was fun for Saints fans to pretend there was some irrational league vendetta against them, that the coaches apologized for absolutely nothing, and that there was no evidence of any kind…but that never made any sense whatsoever. We’ll continue to get more and more evidence and the list of supposed “liars” will soon be far longer than the number of Saints players claiming nothing ever happened.

  29. ajpurp says: Sep 19, 2012 2:42 PM

    Really? Cause trials always bring out the truth? Ha. Lawyers find ways around the truth, the trial would bring out the truth of the side that has the best lawyer. See e.g. Simpson and Clemens.

  30. wiley16350 says: Sep 19, 2012 2:50 PM

    But how are you going use the fact that Vilma has 10 sworn statements exonerating him as the foundation for your counter-argument? Those are his friends’ and teammates’ statements. They hold no more water than Williams’ or Cerullo’s statements, regardless if he has 1, 10, or 100.
    __________________________________
    I’m guessing the sworn statements for Vilma are that Vilma never offered $10,000 to anyone to intentionally injure Favre/ Warner. Which is technically true. The $10,000 was to knock Favre/ Warner out for the game not to injure him. Basically the technicality would be the old saying are you “hurt” or are you injured”. The players want to contort it to say they were only paying to “hurt” another player and not “injure” him. The NFL doesn’t care which it was for, the NFL still sees it as a problem that players would pay each other to knock other players out of the game. It doesn’t matter that it’s their job and that’s what they get paid to do. They were celebrating injuries by paying others when they happened. I don’t think Vilma would like it if people were paid extra money if he was carted off the field and miss playing time because of it. The fact is, it something that the Goodell knows could have had a negative impact on the league if he didn’t take action. Maybe the penalties were harsher than need be but they did deserve some punishment.

  31. wiley16350 says: Sep 19, 2012 3:00 PM

    I could add that people are siting Cerullo’s firing as motive and reason he would lie. However, that is all fine and dandy in respect to the team but what does that have to do with these individual players? You have to come up with a rationale of why he would have a vandetta against these players and involve them in his attempt to get back at the team? You have to connect all the dots, not just throw out theories for certain aspects of the case and call it settled.

  32. jcaro5566 says: Sep 19, 2012 3:25 PM

    I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “legal” angle, but the angle on how to use the law to your benefit when you may be guilty.

  33. jedidev says: Sep 19, 2012 4:15 PM

    So what about the 2010 and 2011 seasons? I don’t see anything in either of these statements that supports the “3-year pay-to-injure” allegations that was the basis of many of the Saints’ punishments.

  34. jedidev says: Sep 19, 2012 4:17 PM

    the NFL still sees it as a problem that players would pay each other to knock other players out of the game. It doesn’t matter that it’s their job and that’s what they get paid to do. They were celebrating injuries by paying others when they happened. I don’t think Vilma would like it if people were paid extra money if he was carted off the field and miss playing time because of it. The fact is, it something that the Goodell knows could have had a negative impact on the league if he didn’t take action. Maybe the penalties were harsher than need be but they did deserve some punishment.

    ————————–

    Doesn’t the NFL sell photos of these big hits?

  35. pigskin28 says: Sep 19, 2012 6:45 PM

    There’s millions of people travelling down America’s highway.Many speed. Why do only a few get caught? And why are’nt all those caught disciplined?

    Do you live in a cocoon.

  36. jamesmcv72 says: Sep 19, 2012 8:47 PM

    Zzzzzzzzzz……..

  37. vegasvinnie says: Sep 19, 2012 10:39 PM

    Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t Cerullo the coach that went AWOL for almost a week while the Saints were preparing for Super Bowl 44?

    If we’re going to raise credibility issues, we can start and end there.

  38. wiley16350 says: Sep 20, 2012 7:55 AM

    Doesn’t the NFL sell photos of these big hits?
    __________________________________
    I don’t know, I’ve never bought one. I’ve never even looked to buy photos from the NFL. But that has nothing to do with the argument. Just because there is a big hit doesn’t mean there was an injury. They’re not celebrating an injury or encouraging players to injure others even if they did sell those types of photos. Just put yourself into the situation, if it happened to you would you really be happy to know that you sustained an injury that keeps you off the field for any length of time because there was extra money and incentive on the line. I’m pretty sure that the majority of people wouldn’t like for that to happen to them. But the NFL’s primary concern is lawsuits, so they can’t have that type of stuff going on so they had to deal with it to get the message across. The only way these players are in the right is if Cerullo is lying and he made the stuff up. Otherwise the NFL was correct in penalizing them.

  39. turvalon says: Sep 20, 2012 5:31 PM

    wiley16350 says:

    I could add that people are siting Cerullo’s firing as motive and reason he would lie. However, that is all fine and dandy in respect to the team but what does that have to do with these individual players? You have to come up with a rationale of why he would have a vandetta against these players and involve them in his attempt to get back at the team? You have to connect all the dots, not just throw out theories for certain aspects of the case and call it settled.

    You are looking at it incorrectly. You have to look at the total effect which is the head coach gone for the year, GM gone for 8 games, Assistant Head Coach for 6 games, Will Smith for 4 games and Vilma for the year.

    I’d say that if he was trying to get back at the Saints, mission accomplished. They players were just icing on the cake.

  40. dickmac says: Sep 21, 2012 11:02 AM

    “The Saints never should have let Cerullo leave without ensuring that he wouldn’t be able to blab later” – Does this mean “put out a contract on him”?????

  41. miles58a says: Sep 21, 2012 2:07 PM

    In that sworn affidavit, Williams admitted he had a pay-for-performance pool funded by Saints players, admitted he knew the pool violated league rules, and admitted he misled the NFL when he was first questioned about it in 2010. Even in that confession, however, Williams said he never encouraged players to inflict injuries or commit penalties. But in talks with the league, he has apparently pointed the finger at Vilma
    ___________________________________
    This is part of the statment that was reported

    So what part do y’all think Williams is telling the truth about He never encouraged players to inflict injuries or commit penalties or is he lying about this part but telling the truth about everything else

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