By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The attorney for suspended New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma says a ledger of under-the-table cash bonuses and fines for Saints players shows no proof of bounties placed on targeted opponents.
Lawyer Peter Ginsberg said the leaking of the ledger to the media shows how "misguided and irresponsible" NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been in handling the bounty investigation of the Saints.
People familiar with the ledger told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Friday that the document indicates payments of $1,000 for plays called "cart-offs" and $400 for "whacks," as well as $100 fines for mental errors.
Ginsberg asserted that the commissioner interviewed the person who kept the ledger, and knows "the 'whacks' and 'cart-off,' though regrettably named, were descriptions of good, clean, legal plays, and that any dirty or penalized play resulted in fines."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said he had no comment on the latest statement by Ginsberg, who is representing Vilma both in the player's appeal of his season-long suspension as well as in a defamation lawsuit against Goodell. The defamation lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans and Goodell has until July 5 to respond to it.
The NFL has suspended four players — all of them either current or former Saints — in connection with the bounty probe. Vilma was suspended for all of the 2012 season, Green Bay defensive end Anthony Hargrove was suspended eight games, Saints defensive end Will Smith was suspended four games, and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita three. All four players have appealed their suspensions.
Ginsberg's statement about the ledger is the latest of several instances in which players or their representatives have debated the significance of evidence gathered by the NFL in its probe of the bounty program that the league said ex-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran from 2009 to 2011.
The NFL, in its initial report, highlighted an excerpt from an email in which an associate of Saints head coach Sean Payton said "put me down for $5,000" on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. However, marketing agent Mike Ornstein, the author of the email, said the comment — which was part of an email sent from federal prison to a team spokesman and forwarded to the coaching staff — was part of a running joke he had with Williams, dating to when the Minnesota Vikings suggested the Saints had placed a bounty on then-quarterback Brett Favre in the 2010 NFC title game.
In May, Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney hired by the NFL, said a signed declaration by Hargrove confirmed the existence of a bounty program, and that Hargrove was instructed to lie about it — and did lie about it — when first questioned by league investigators. But Hargrove later said the NFL mischaracterized his statement, which the AP also obtained. The declaration does not go into specifics about what Hargrove knew or did not know about a bounty program in New Orleans, and it does not explicitly say that he lied.
The NFL has not discussed the ledger in any of its official reports or public comments, but the document's existence appears to support the league's contention that the Saints operated an improper pay-for-performance program. Whether it confirms that actual bounties were placed on targeted opponents is not yet clear, as the document has not been made public.
"The truth is that Jonathan Vilma gave no money, incentive or encouragement ever — not at any time in his eight-year career — to injure or knock out of any game any player with a dirty or unsportsmanlike hit," Ginsberg said in a statement. "The facts are plain and simple. During the three seasons in question, Jonathan Vilma was one of the least penalized players not only on the Saints, but in the NFL."
According to STATS, LLC, Vilma has played in 42 games since 2009 and has been penalized three times in that span. Two-thirds of NFL defensive players who played in 40 or more games during that same period were penalized more than Vilma.
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