An email from an imprisoned friend of the Saints' coaching staff with a postscript saying "put me down for $5,000" on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has become another sore point between players being punished for New Orleans' bounty system and the NFL.
The email, obtained by The Associated Press, was written from prison by marketing agent Mike Ornstein shortly before the Saints' 2011 season opener against the Packers. Ornstein once represented running back Reggie Bush and later got to know members of the Saints' coaching staff.
The bulk of Ornstein's note to the Saints discusses his experiences in prison and offers sometimes brash words of encouragement to various coaches, including then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The last line states: "PS Gregg Williams put me down for $5000.00 on Rogers (sic)." Ornstein now says that was written "in total jest."
Ornstein was sentenced to eight months in federal prison, which he served in Florence, Colo., for conspiring to scalp Super Bowl tickets and hawking fake "game-worn" jerseys. He was released last fall.
"It's a running joke going for three years," Ornstein said in a telephone interview this week, explaining he had been kidding Williams about bounties ever since the NFC Championship Game in 2010, after which the Minnesota Vikings told the NFL they believed the Saints had a bounty on quarterback Brett Favre.
When shown Ornstein's note in its entirety, an attorney for suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma echoed his criticism from earlier this week that the NFL is manipulating evidence to strengthen a weak case.
"Ornstein's email is just another example of the speciousness of the quote-unquote evidence that Commissioner (Roger) Goodell claims to have to support his erroneous accusations against Jonathan and the other players," lawyer Peter Ginsberg said. "As more of the evidence is revealed in the media, it is becoming more and more apparent how irresponsible the NFL's actions have been."
The NFL didn't immediately respond Thursday night to a request for comment, but in a March 2 report distributed to teams, the league acknowledged possession of Ornstein's email to Payton "committing $5,000 towards a bounty on an opposing quarterback, which the coach recognized was a pledge towards a bounty."
In a report released March 21, the NFL highlighted Ornstein's line about Rodgers, stating it came in an email that Saints coach Sean Payton received from "a close associate." Payton and the other coaches on the staff didn't receive the email from Ornstein directly, but from Saints spokesman Greg Bensel, who forwarded it Sept. 3 to the coaching staff with the subject line: "email from Orny (he asked that I send it) the dude is in prison so I told him I would."
Now living in Los Angeles, Ornstein said by phone that he had joked with Williams about bounties on other star players, including one other time in an email about Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Ornstein said he never would have pledged the kind of money he joked about for any pay-for-performance program, never mind one that promoted injurious tackles.
"As long as I've worked with people in the NFL, everyone who knows me knows that the only things I've ever done for players is things that help them, not hurt them," Ornstein said. "First of all, I don't have $5,000 to put down. When I wrote that email, I was in jail. How was I going to pay for it? In stamps? I'm in federal jail in Florence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.