Jimmy Haslam, whose purchase of the Browns was unanimously approved in October, apologized to fellow NFL owners for the negative attention an ongoing federal investigation targeting his family business, Pilot Flying J, has brought upon the league, USA Today’s Jarrett Bell reported.
Since the FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided the headquarters of Pilot Flying J April 15 in Knoxville, Tenn., Haslam has issued several apologies and denied his knowledge of an alleged fraud scheme the FBI says cheated trucking-company customers out of millions of dollars of rebates they were promised for buying certain amounts of diesel fuel.
Haslam, the CEO of Pilot Flying J, continued to maintain his innocence while explaining his side of the story to his NFL brethren Tuesday during the league meetings in Boston, according to the report. He addressed the other owners for about five minutes before a lunch break. It wasn’t on the agenda, but Haslam asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell if he could speak to the group.
“I thought it was important,” Haslam told USA Today. “We're partners in the NFL. I wanted to address them face-to-face.”
Haslam became a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008 before striking a deal this past summer to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion. Steelers President Art Rooney II told USA Today he “was shocked” when he first heard about the accusations against Pilot Flying J, which is owned by Haslam and his family.
“I felt like it's nothing Jimmy would become involved in,” Rooney said. “I feel like I know Jimmy. … He’s not someone who'd be breaking the law.”
Haslam and Goodell met last month about the investigation, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league has no plans to ask Haslam to surrender operational control of the Browns during the probe. No charges have been filed in the case.
So at this point, the league is sticking by Haslam. And he assured his peers he wouldn’t let them down.
“I know he feels a sense of embarrassment,” New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told USA Today. “He said they're going to do everything they can to get it under control and put it behind them, and that he felt bad for the attention that it brought to the Cleveland franchise and the NFL, and he was going to make it right.
“He handled himself in a very professional way and spoke about what the NFL and the Cleveland market means to him, how important it is that he make both parties proud," Kraft said. "They have a huge company. Maybe they didn't have all the controls that they wanted. He was very impressive in explaining that. I thought it was classy.”
Haslam seemingly earned points among the owners for his most recent speech. He also offered to meet in private with any of them who want further explanation, according to the report.
“Personally, hearing Mr. Haslam explain his full situation, I was very touched by it,” New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch told USA Today. “The complexity of the situation, I don't fully understand. But he was open. I admire him for taking a very proactive position.
“He is the new kid in town in terms of NFL ownership. And to sort of deal with an issue like this in the first quarter is impressive.”