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Vilma's legal team raising questions about Bountygate whistleblower


Jonathan Vilma arrives for his meeting with Roger Goodell on Monday. (AP)  
Jonathan Vilma arrives for his meeting with Roger Goodell on Monday. (AP)  

The identity of former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo, whose declarations were presented to suspended player Jonathan Vilma during his Tuesday disciplinary meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell as a key witness in the bounty case, was not a revelation to Vilma’s legal team, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

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.

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Cerullo's identity as a whistleblower officially became public Monday after his signed affidavit emerged from various media outlets. However, 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.

On Tuesday afternoon, 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.

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.

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.

Cerullo is in his first year as Princeton's director of football operations, and has years of college coaching experience and stints in the NFL with New Orleans and Atlanta.

League officials were scheduled to meet with two other suspended players -- Saints defensive lineman Will Smith and free agent lineman Anthony Hargrove -- on Tuesday. A video conference meeting with the other suspended player, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, was postponed at the league's request, sources said.

A league source said the NFL intended to reschedule the meeting. Other sources with knowledge of the situation said the sides had been negotiating the terms of the meeting, with Fujita preferring to stay in Cleveland to receive treatment and prepare for the next game, as he missed almost all of the preseason because of injury. As of Monday night those terms appeared to be in place, but the league raised reservations about that forum Tuesday morning.

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.

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