A mix of excitement and anxiety has loomed over the Cleveland Browns' organization this offseason, but a verdict has been reached regarding one disconcerting issue.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam's Pilot Flying J truck stop company has been under federal investigation for more than a year for alleged rebate fraud committed by some of its employees.
According to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, as long as the company accepts full responsibility for any criminal conduct, continually complies with the government and pays $92 million over two years, it will avoid being prosecuted.
Ulrich's report includes a release from Pilot Flying J, featuring a quote from Haslam, its CEO:
We, as a company, look forward to putting this whole unfortunate episode behind us, continuing our efforts to rectify the damage done, regaining our customers’ trust, and getting on with our business. We’ve been committed from the beginning of this to doing the right thing, and that remains our commitment.
Also featured is an explanation of the investigation and what it means for Pilot Flying J moving forward, provided by U.S. Attorney Bill Killian:
The terms of this agreement, including the significant monetary penalty and the very serious consequences if Pilot fails to comply, demonstrate quite clearly that no corporation, no matter how big, influential, or wealthy, is above the law.
In addition, the company’s agreement to fully cooperate with the United States, including its obligation to identify its employees’ criminal conduct, will assist the ongoing federal investigation. The agreement ensures that Pilot’s extensive remediation efforts will continue until all trucking company victims have received full restitution and until Pilot has demonstrated to the United States that it has implemented sufficient internal controls to prevent this kind of fraudulent conduct from ever occurring again.
Scott Taylor of 19 Action News weighed in on the situation:
ESPN.com's Jim Trotter provided his take:
Haslam has never appeared flustered in the public eye about the investigation and claimed from the outset that he hadn't personally done anything illegal or known of any wrongdoing. It hasn't impacted his ownership of the Browns, nor his role as CEO of the company, so Monday's proposed resolution should be embraced.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Jimmy's brother, is also a co-owner of the company.
This off-field distraction is something Cleveland can now leave in the past, provided Pilot Flying J remains cooperative with the government and pays its penalty. However, there are still a couple of controversies away from the gridiron that threaten to keep the Browns mired in the AFC North cellar.
All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon—who led the NFL in receiving yards a year ago—has a scheduled appeal hearing in late July. He may be suspended for the entire 2014 season due to another failed drug test. First-round draft pick Johnny Manziel is the apparent quarterback of the future, yet he has reportedly been told even by Haslam to tone down his fast life away from football.
The decision on Gordon still looms large in Cleveland, as it may make or break how the team fares this coming year. There's still some uncertainty about how Manziel will translate to the pros; he could be the latest QB misfire by the Browns.
Cleveland is experiencing a lot of excitement in sports right now, with NBA superstar LeBron James returning home and the Browns having an offseason full of marquee free-agent signings and solid draft choices. This Haslam news is the latest positive development for the Browns, but concerns should still be abound regarding the franchise's immediate future on the field.