Browns owner Jimmy Haslam addressed the media this afternoon at the headquarters of Pilot Flying J in Knoxville, Tenn., and maintained his innocence despite his family’s truck-stop empire being at the center of a federal investigation.
“Somebody asked me today if I was going to step down as [CEO of Pilot Flying J],” Haslam said. “I thought to myself, ‘Why would I do that?’ Candidly, I haven’t done anything wrong, No. 1. And No. 2, if there’s ever a time the company needs our leadership, it’s right now. So our plans are to remain CEO for a long time, candidly.”
Haslam made no mention of the Browns during his statement and did not take questions from reporters. However, as Haslam walked out of the boardroom, one reporter shouted, “Are you going to take the Browns to the Super Bowl?” Haslam turned, smiled and said, “Eventually, yes.”
The NFL has no plans to ask Haslam to remove himself from operational control of the franchise during the investigation, league spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed this morning for the Beacon Journal.
“There are no such plans,” Aiello wrote in an email.
An FBI agent’s 120-page affidavit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tenn., alleges that Pilot Flying J kept millions of dollars by reducing the amount of rebates smaller trucking companies were owed for buying fuel. The affidavit says a Pilot Flying J employee told authorities that Haslam, the company’s CEO, knew about the fraud scheme.
The FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided Pilot Flying J’s headquarters Monday in Knoxville. The affidavit was filed to secure the search warrants used. Haslam was at the Browns’ headquarters Thursday in Berea as the affidavit was unsealed, but he did not address the media.
“Browns operations are same as they always have been [and] will be the same,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said Thursday during a pre-draft news conference. The NFL Draft runs April 25-27. “As [Haslam] expressed, he’s very confident [that] it will take some time, but it will work out and that they have done nothing wrong.”
As Haslam spoke in front of the media today, Moxley Carmichael, a public-relations firm that represents Pilot Flying J, emailed the text from his prepared statement.
Here is a copy of the prepared statement:
Thanks for coming by today.
I have a statement to read to you. It’s important to me to keep our line of communication as open as possible, but I will not be able to answer your questions because we’re still trying to fully understand everything that’s going on.
We’ve always enjoyed an accessible relationship with the media here at Pilot Flying J, and I hope it’s never any other way.
Pilot Flying J is very proud to be part of this community and places a very high value on our friendships, activities and role in this community and don’t expect that to ever change.
All of you are well aware of what happened here on Monday afternoon, and most of you have read all or part of the two affidavits released Thursday night as part of a federal investigation of Pilot Flying J.
The timing of the release of the affidavits was sooner than we would have expected but otherwise not terribly surprising.
The affidavits didn’t present a very flattering picture of our company, and were not representative of what our company is all about, but taken on the whole, they were consistent with our previous impression of the federal government’s investigation.
It still appears to us that this investigation is focused on a very narrow band of a very large company – questions about how rebates were handled to a very small percentage of our trucking company customers.
On a personal note, this obviously has been a tough week for the Pilot Flying J family, the toughest in our history.
First of all, I want to say how sorry I am that our team members, our customers, our suppliers, vendors and our friends have to go through this with us. It’s been traumatic for some, but it’s important to remember that probably 99% of our people aren’t even in the scope of this inquiry.
That’s why on a call with all of our management folks this morning, I asked them to do three things:
•One, keep morale up and be positive.
•Two, keep everybody focused.
•Three, do your job.
I want to say again, that from its beginning in 1958, Dad built this company on its integrity, and nothing’s changed on my watch. Our first value every day around here is to do the right thing.
It doesn’t occur to us to do things any other way, and any conduct otherwise is intolerable.
We’ll continue to cooperate as appropriate with the federal investigation and continue our own investigation.
In the meantime, it will be business as usual at Pilot Flying J. Our 23,000-plus employees in our 650-plus locations nationwide will stay focused on doing their jobs – providing the best products at the best prices with the best services to the best customers in the world, America’s drivers.
Our relationships with our customers, our suppliers and vendors, our team members and our friends in the communities in which we live and work are very important to us, and I trust and believe their faith in this company and its principles has never been displaced.
I’d love to stay and visit, but like I said, we really need to know more and spend more time with all of the issues involved before I say much more. We’ll do that another time.
Thanks again for coming. We’ll continue to keep you informed as well as possible.