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Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has no plans to sell the Browns in the wake of a federal investigation that could be taxing the finances of his Pilot Flying J truck stop business.
That's the message Haslam relayed through a spokesperson Monday to Cleveland.com. Haslam said the same thing to ESPNCleveland.com in a telephone interview Sunday night.
"We are staying in close contact with the NFL during the investigation," Haslam spokesman Tom Ingram said in an email to Cleveland.com. "We expect no change in Mr. Haslam's relationship with the NFL and/or his ownership of the Browns. Any other statement is unfounded media guessing."
When he spoke to ESPNCleveland.com, Haslam addressed a rumor that the league might force him to sell the Browns. Haslam said he could not envision such a scenario.
"Absolutely not," Haslam told ESPNCleveland.com. "We plan on owning the Browns for a long time."
In that interview, Haslam pointed out the $5 million renovation going on at the Browns' Berea headquarters and the $100 million in improvements slated for FirstEnergy Stadium after the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville was raided by FBI and IRS agents on April 15 as part of an investigation into fraud in Pilot's fuel rebate program.
As of last week, at least 18 companies had filed civil suits claiming they had been shortchanged. Some of them have reportedly received checks since April 15 as Haslam attempts to reimburse companies for the money they are owed.
Five employees in the sales department have pleaded guilty and are assisting in the investigation. An FBI affidavit charges that Haslam, Pilot's CEO, was aware of the fraudulent practices.
Last month, Haslam and his family announced they were selling the Tennessee Smokies, a Class AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. That came on the heels of a June Wall Street Journal story that said Pilot Flying J's debt had nearly doubled to $4 billion in a two-year period through last year.
Haslam struck a deal to purchase the Browns from Randy Lerner in August 2012 for about $1 billion.