Federal allegations of fraud made against Jimmy Haslam’s Pilot Flying J company may imperil his operational control of the Cleveland Browns, according to a source with knowledge of both the legal system and the inner workings of the NFL.
“This is worse than a dark cloud. This is a funnel cloud,” said the source.
Haslam was inside the Browns’ facility to sit in on draft meetings on Thursday when details of an alleged fraud scheme that enriched his family’s company were revealed in unsealed documents filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, TN.
The 120-page affidavit, as first reported by The Plain Dealer, summed up a two-year investigation of Haslam’s truck stop and travel center company by the FBI and IRS. The documents, which were used to obtain search and seizure warrants served Monday at company headquarters, charge that Haslam knew company sales executives withheld millions of dollars of rebates owed trucking companies that purchased gas in large volumes from Pilot Flying J.
After reading the documents, Haslam issued a statement that said in part, “I maintain that the foundation of this company is built on its integrity and that any willful wrongdoing by any employee of this company at any time is intolerable.”
Haslam pledged to continue to cooperate with the FBI investigation and also to continue his company’s internal investigation of the allegations.
The NFL has declined to comment.
The investigation has not resulted in an indictment.
The source believes the league may ask Haslam to step aside of his own volition and remove himself from operational control of the Browns while the investigation continues. It’s possible that requirement could result in Haslam staying away from the team facility.
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