To Jonathan Vilma’s legal team, that revelation was not a surprise.
In fact, his lawyers had long ago presented the NFL with statements and claims that they believed impugned Cerullo as a credible witness. Cerullo’s name surfaced as early as July in the Bountygate proceedings.
To those who have been investigating the case, it was no secret. Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, interviewed various employees of the Saints as part of the defamation of character case it has filed against Goodell, and has shared with the league, in briefings and otherwise, information that casts Cerullo as being an unstable and disgruntled former employee, sources said.
Twice during the 2009 season, according to the evidence collected by Vilma’s legal team, Cerullo asked the Saints and linebackers coach Joe Vitt in particular, to take a leave of absence for personal reasons. The first time, during the regular season, according to statements obtained by those lawyers, Cerullo told Vitt his girlfriend had been in a bad accident, with a young child possibly involved, and he needed to leave the team for a few days to tend to that situation. The second time, during the playoffs, in a year in which New Orleans went on to win the Super Bowl, Cerullo told Vitt a close family member of his girlfriend’s had died and he needed to get to Oklahoma immediately, according to these briefs.
The Saints later looked into the matter and determined that neither of the reasons Cerullo gave them were valid, according to what Vilma’s legal team has presented to the NFL. At the end of the season, Vitt informed Cerullo he would be terminated for deceiving the team about his whereabouts. It was then, according to this evidence, that Cerullo made public claims about exacting revenge on the Saints, and Vitt in particular.
Cerullo is believed by many to be the source who turned over various ledgers and documents to the NFL in its investigation into whether players were illegally being paid to intentionally injure opponents. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, in his signed affidavit to the NFL on Sunday, admitted overseeing the program but was adamant it was “pay-for-performance” only, with no individuals targeted. The players actually were supposed to put money back into the “kitty” for any play that was penalized, and bonuses were rewarded only for games in which the Saints won.
The NFL released this statement: “Mike Cerullo should be commended for coming forward. The information and detail he provided was credible and has since been confirmed in numerous respects both by other witnesses and by supporting documents. It is unfortunate that some have sought to unfairly attack his integrity rather than give attention to the substance of his declaration.”
According to one source with access to both affidavits — the recent declarations of Williams and Cerullo — those statements differ in one key manner: What became of the $10,000 they claim Vilma pledged for any player who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre from the 2009 NFC championship game. Cerullo claims he ended up with the money and then gave it to Williams, the source said. Williams claims that, as this pledge was made outside of his “pay-for-performance” program, he was unaware of the whereabouts of any actual money and unsure of whether it was paid out. Though, as Favre was not knocked out of the game, Williams “assumes” no payments were made.