BEREA, Ohio — Documents filed in federal court Thursday allege that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III’s Pilot Flying J company has engaged in fraud for “many years” in a scheme to keep money owed to customers in gas rebates.
According to the documents, Haslam knew about the fraud committed by top sales officials at the company. In a news conference earlier this week at Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., Haslam denied any wrongdoing and expressed confidence that the situation would be resolved.
Haslam is back with his football team in the Cleveland suburb of Berea, but he didn’t participate in the Browns’ pre-NFL Draft news conference Thursday afternoon. Browns CEO Joe Banner said Haslam previously was scheduled to be with the team Thursday and Friday and that the Browns’ operations were proceeding “as they would have been all along.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported contents of the 120-page affadavit late Thursday afternoon and linked to the document, which said that the investigation dates back to May 2011 and alleges the scheme lasted five to seven years.
FBI and IRS agents executed search warrants at Pilot Flying J’s headquarters on Monday and again on Tuesday. Haslam stepped down as Pilot Flying J CEO last year after his bid for the Cleveland Browns was accepted by the NFL but later returned to the job.
Next week’s draft will be the first for the Browns under Haslam, who was announced this past summer as the buyer from previous owner Randy Lerner and was officially approved by the NFL in October. Haslam sold his shares of the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this month.
“I think Jimmy made a statement the other day,” Banner said when asked to address the issue at Thursday’s news conference. “There’s not much I can add to it.”