Meet The Convicted Felon Who Defrauded The NFL, Made Reggie Bush Ineligible, And Funded The Saints' Bounty Program

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If the NFL were to punish every team that ran a bounty program, there are very few teams they wouldn't have to punish. That's becoming obvious in the wake of the Saints' bounty scandal, and in the parade of stories making clear that money is going to be a large factor in the league's investigation. There may be no specific prohibitions on intent to injure, but the NFL can and will legislate from existing CBA rules on salary cap circumvention. The league (and the IRS) can come down as hard as it wants on players being paid for performance under the table, and you can expect them to come down hard when some of those payments were coming from a twice-convicted felon with a history of football scandals.

Michael Ornstein is the name to know. As first reported by CBS's Mike Freeman, Ornstein—a close friend and confidant of Sean Payton—Ornstein on at least four occasions pledged his own money to the Saints' defense's bounty fund. In 2009, $10,000 toward knocking an opposing quarterback out of the game. In 2011, two separate contributions to targeting the quarterback. And on at least one other occasion, Ornstein pledged his money in an email to Payton, which spelled out the details of the bounty program.


The NFL knows this because it has that email, a highly incriminating paper trail that makes it impossible for Payton to argue his innocence, or for the Saints to claim the bounty never left the locker room. It might be the single most damaging piece of evidence, based solely on Ornstein's history.

Once upon a time, Ornstein was an NFL executive in charge of marketing. That was until he attempted to defraud the league out of $350,000. Ornstein conspired to submit fraudulent invoices to Los Angeles based manufacturers, pocketing the money and never providing the NFL with the merchandise they were led to believe they had purchased. He pleaded guilty to mail fraud, and served four months home confinement, five years of probation, and paid the NFL $160,000 in restitution.


Ornstein resurfaced a decade later, as the marketing agent who represented Reggie Bush when he turned pro. It soon came out that Ornstein had been a central figure in providing Bush with improper benefits while at USC, as Ornstein competed with eventual whistleblower Lloyd Lake for Bush's services. According to a Yahoo investigation, Ornstein had paid for airfare, limousine service and luxury hotel stays for Bush's family, as well as a weekly "allowance" of at least $1,500.

Despite this, Ornstein followed Bush to New Orleans and quickly became a member of the Saints' inner circle. The Times-Picayune reported that,

while not an official employee of the Saints, Ornstein has been a fixture at practices, games and in the locker room since the Saints drafted Bush in April 2006. He often wears team gear and is a regular presence on the sideline and on the field during practices.

Payton devoted a chapter in his recent book about how valuable an asset Ornstein was to the team during its Super Bowl championship season. Ornstein was a point man for the Saints during their trip to Miami for the Super Bowl, arranging everything from daily gifts for players and their wives to strategically placed Saints billboards throughout the city. Ornstein also helps Payton with business arrangements outside of football, including the book deal and a movie script that Payton was working on last year.

It was during that Super Bowl season when Ornstein allegedly offered 10 grand to injure opposing quarterbacks. The next year he was in trouble again, being brought up on federal fraud charges for two separate schemes. One involved selling trading cards with swatches of NFL jerseys, with Ornstein obtaining fake certificates of authenticity to claim the jerseys were game-worn. The other involved scalping Super Bowl tickets purchased from people who received them at face value from their employers—in many cases, NFL players. To cover their tracks, Ornstein rigged up fake forms indicating the Super Bowl tickets were going to charity.

Ornstein cooperated with investigators and was sentenced to eight months in prison. He began serving his time last March; it's not clear if he was still incarcerated when he was emailing Sean Payton to fund the bounty.


Here he is at Saints training camp. Here he is posing with Sean Payton and Drew Brees at a charity event. Here he is celebrating on the field with the team when the Saints won the Super Bowl. Mike Ornstein, never a Saints employee but exactly the sort of hanger-on you expect attached to a shady college program, was given an all-access pass in New Orleans for six seasons. If Roger Goodell needs any justification to bring the hammer down on the Saints, he need look no farther than the company they keep on the sidelines.