Remember the name Mike Ornstein, as the investigation into the New Orleans Saints pay-for-performance program continues to unravel. Ornstein may not be a familiar name outside of NFL circles and New Orleans, but his role in the Saints' bounty program should raise some eyebrows.
Considering Ornstein's background and involvement with the 'bounty' scheme implemented by Gregg Williams, something about this all seems odd. A somewhat formal pay-for-performance system isn't necessarily surprising, but the public revelation is a black mark for the NFL. After all, the league has been preaching player safety with renewed vigor lately, all while players were intentionally trying to injure each other for a few extra dollars.
And that's before even taking into account Ornstein's place in the whole system. He left a paper trail -- an email to head coach Sean Payton -- and put up large sums of money on more than one occasion, to be paid out if a defensive player knocked an opposing quarterback from the game. But why would a man not on the payroll and with no real vested interest in the Saints' success throw down the kind of money Ornstein did? Would he actually just drop cash out of the goodness of his heart, simply because he was close with Payton and the team?
Ornstein has done just about everything in professional football, working mostly on the marketing side of the sport., even rising to the rank of VP of Marketing for the league. But there's bad to go along with his business prowess: in the early 2000s, he fraudulently marketed NFL jerseys from a manufacturer as game-worn. In 2010, he was caught up in a federal investigation for the fraudulent jerseys, as well as a Super Bowl ticket scalping scheme, resulting in a prison sentence.
Looking at his past, it would appear Ornstein's career was one long hustle. He dabbled in the merchandise scam, flipped Super Bowl tickets for nearly a decade and was tangled up in the Reggie Bush scandal, eventually landing the former USC running back as a client. In 1995, Ornstein pleaded guilty to mail fraud after defrauding the league of $350,000 by submitting fake invoices. Cons and his work with the NFL have gone hand-in-hand.
Wondering how powerful a man Ornstein is and how worrying his presence may be to the NFL? The following is from Yahoo!, following Ornstein's arrest in 2010.
"Knowing Orny the way I do, there's no question that he'll do whatever he has to do to save himself, and that could be very bad for a lot of people," one of the aforementioned sources said. "You're talking about a lot of money changing hands. A lot of money and a lot people."
Ornstein is a powerful man with a lot of connections who also happened to engage in multiple fraudulent ventures. He jumped from one con to the next, from mail fraud to marketing fraudulent game-worn jerseys to ticket scalping.
So why, then, was Ornstein throwing down bounty money? It's one thing for the players to put up money in the locker room for big hits and plays. It's another for an outside source, especially one with the record Ornstein has, to enter the fray.
That, more than Williams' pay-for-performance system, should scare the NFL.