Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam Comments on FBI Investigation

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Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam Comments on FBI Investigation
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

In February, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam resumed his role as CEO of Pilot Flying J, a truck stop chain. On Monday, FBI agents locked down the headquarters of the company.

UPDATED: Thursday, April 18, at 6:39 p.m. ET by Eric Ball

The latest news to emerge from this story is not good for Haslam. According to documents filed to federal court on Thursday, Haslam was well aware of an alleged fraud scheme that involved giving customers gas credit instead of cash back when owed money by the company (via John Caniglia of the The Plain Dealer).

Canigila provides a glimpse of Haslam's involvement:
The affidavit makes clear what Haslam knew: "(A confidential informant) further advised that the rebate fraud has occurred with the knowledge of Pilot's current President Mark Hazelwood and Pilot's Chief Executive Officer James A. "Jimmy" Haslam III due to the fact that the rebate fraud-related activities have been discussed during sales meetings in Knoxville, Tenn., in which Hazelwood and Haslam have been present.''
The entire affidavit can be read here. 

---End of Update---

 

UPDATED: Tuesday, April 16, at 4:26 p.m. ET by Kyle Vassalo

According to John Caniglia of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Haslam denies any wrongdoing:

"Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said today that his business, which was raided by federal authorities Monday, has done nothing wrong and said "the last thing I want to do'' is put a blemish on Cleveland or the Browns."

---End of Update---

Haslam released the following statement (via Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com):

"The FBI secured our headquarters today and informed us they are investigating Pilot Flying J," Haslam said in an email statement to the Knoxville News Sentinel. "We will cooperate appropriately with any and all external investigations and conduct our own. I believe and trust there has been no wrongdoing. The integrity of our company always has been job No. 1."

Reasons for the raid remain unclear, though it is known that the company is being investigated by the FBI and IRS.

According to KnoxNews.com, federal agents quickly entered the building, determined employee identities and job titles, and required that all computers, phones and electronic equipment be shut off. 

According to ABC News Net 5, the company was originally founded by Haslam's father in the 1950s as a small collection of gas stations. A series of mergers and more than 50 years later, the company has expanded into a giant truck stop chain and is now a lucrative private company.

For the time being, there is nothing to suggest that the investigation will in any way affect Haslam's ownership of the Browns.

Haslam, who took over as the owner of the Browns in October and sold his shares with the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, had been the CEO of the company before buying the Browns.

The news somewhat diminishes what has been an exciting offseason for the team. The signings of Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves and Desmond Bryant highlighted free agency, and the team is expected to add another major piece with the No. 6 pick. 

With a defense on the rise and a legitimate star in Trent Richardson, there are reasons to be optimistic about this Browns team.

 

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