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On July 11, 2008, at Harrah's Lake Tahoe, Roethlisberger allegedly called hotel employee Andrea McNulty to his room to fix a television that turned out to be in proper working order. In a civil suit filed a year later, McNulty claims Roethlisberger groped her and penetrated her against her will. Roethlisberger denies McNulty's account and has declined to comment on specifics.
McNulty says she reported the incident to her superiors but that they did nothing about it. She contends that her boss, Dave Monroe, the vice president of food and hotel operations, told her that Roethlisberger was a close friend of Harrah's Northern Nevada president John Koster, and that Koster "will personally fire you for starting rumors about Roethlisberger's personal life." McNulty said she was told by Monroe, "That guy [Roethlisberger] can have anyone he wants."
The Lake Tahoe incident, like the one in Milledgeville, is fraught with he said/she said. One of McNulty's coworkers gave a sworn affidavit that McNulty bragged about having consensual sex with Roethlisberger and said that she wanted to have his child. McNulty's civil complaint, in contrast, alleges that she asked Roethlisberger to stop but that he didn't, and that after finishing, he told her, "If anyone asks you, you fixed my television. Now go!"
Four days before the McNulty incident, Roethlisberger visited Cabo Wabo Cantina on the grounds of the Harrah's resort with Joyner, Barravecchio and a female friend. There, according to a lawsuit filed by former Cabo Wabo waiter Alvaro Brito, the group "mocked, made fun of and mimicked" Brito while he asked the woman for I.D. to prove she was 21. (Roethlisberger produced the I.D., which showed her to be 27.) As the quarterback left, the lawsuit alleges, he asked Brito if he knew who Koster was and told Brito that Koster was a friend of his. A few days later Brito, who had worked for Harrah's for 12 years and earned $47,000 a year, was fired. He says he was told that the order came from Koster and that it resulted from the encounter with Roethlisberger's group. Brito, who now manages a restaurant in Carson City, Nev., was advised by his lawyer not to speak to SI, nor did Koster or Monroe respond to interview requests. In its response to the McNulty lawsuit, Harrah's said it "engaged in no wrongdoing, and has no liability whatsoever in these circumstances."
Consider: the alleged unabashed behavior, bullying group mentality and we're-with-Ben enablers. Those are the unifying threads from Lake Tahoe to Milledgeville.
In the tepid eight-sentence apology Roethlisberger made on April 26 in accepting the suspension, he pointed out that he has been charged with no crime. That is true. But tightroping the line and tumbling on the correct side of the law does not a good Steeler make. There are myriad reports of Roethlisberger's spreading ill will around Pittsburgh, demonstrating a level of crudeness and immaturity that mandates he "make the necessary improvements," a phrase he used in his apology.
A man who agreed to be identified only by his first name, Craig, says that a few weeks before the Milledgeville incident, he overheard Roethlisberger making lewd comments to a pregnant waitress at a Pittsburgh T.G.I. Friday's. The waitress, when asked last week, recalled Roethlisberger's saying such things as, "Did your boyfriend forget to pull out?"
Mark Baranowski, owner of the popular Cabana Bar in Pittsburgh, says that when the quarterback first came in with a group of hangers-on a few years ago, he refused to pay the $5 cover and used a variation on the Do you know who I am? line to intimidate an employee at the door. At a party Roethlisberger held at the Cabana Bar on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of his motorcycle accident, Baranowski got upset that Roethlisberger's posse rounded up women to come to his VIP area while intimidating customers into deleting cellphone photos of the QB. (His bodyguards allegedly did the same things in Milledgeville.) Roethlisberger agreed to sign a few items, for which he was going to receive free drinks, but Baranowski says he did it sloppily and halfheartedly. The fed-up owner decided Roethlisberger had to pay the cover from then on, which prompted a call from a Steelers security man who wanted to know why the quarterback was banned. Baranowski, through an intermediary, told the staffer Roethlisberger wasn't banned but added, "Tell him he's an arrogant a------, and every Steeler can get in without a cover except him." Roethlisberger has not been back to the Cabana Bar.
After most home games Roethlisberger and several other players head to the Fox and Hound English Pub & Grille. The quarterback would get no customer-of-the-month awards there, either. On at least two occasions Roethlisberger walked out without his tab having been paid (someone else in his party usually does so); one employee remembers a waitress chasing him into the parking lot yelling, "Hey! You owe me money!" as Roethlisberger climbed into his SUV. (He did pay when she caught up to him.)
Roethlisberger's reputation in Pittsburgh is not only a matter of an us-against-Ben war waged by service people. SI spoke at length with a friend of Roethlisberger's, who gets along with the quarterback but who is pained by his behavior. When they're out together, the man, who didn't want his name used, sometimes feels obligated to apologize to waiters and bartenders whom Roethlisberger has treated like garbage. He says he shakes his head when he sees Roethlisberger "disrespect" women in bars. (He has never seen any sign of sexual impropriety.) He is embarrassed by Roethlisberger's pettiness and immaturity during pickup basketball games—he says Big Ben will whine about team selection, talk mean-spirited trash and flex his biceps when he makes a good play. He despairs when he sees Roethlisberger blow off attempts by older Steelers, such as Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, to give him advice. He doubts that Roethlisberger's closest buddies tell him anything except what he wants to hear.