We’re closing in on the NFL Draft, but the biggest story in the NFL right now is far from New York City and down in Knoxville, Tennessee where Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is being investigated by the FBI and federal government for allegedly engaging in fraud over recent years to boost profits on his trucking business.
As of right now, Haslam is an innocent man, as he has not been arrested or indicted, but as the investigation wares on it’s looking like that might happen. The FBI has stated that they believe they have evidence that proves Haslam committed fraud, but according to the Browns owner there hasn’t been any wrong doing done on his part. Haslam prepared a statement today that can be read here.
“Somebody asked me today if I was going to step down as [CEO of Pilot Flying J],” Haslam said, via Akron Beacon Journal. “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.”
According to the Beacon Journal, the FBI filed a 120-page affidavit that alleges Haslam defrauded his employees by lowering the rebate amounts that smaller trucking companies were owed for buying fuel. If it turns out that Haslam indeed committed this fraud, it would mean that the money he essentially stole from employees was used to purchase the Cleveland Browns.
Obviously, there’s no way to prove that at this moment and it’s a long paper trail to draw that conclusion, but common sense suggests that if you stole money you used it to buy something nice.
Again, Haslam should be presumed innocent as he has been formally charged with anything at this moment. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that the league has “no such plans” to remove Haslam as owner of the Browns and aren’t planning on asking him to step aside at this time.
But as this investigation heats up, it’s starting to leave a bigger and bigger stain on the NFL’s brand as an owner who defrauded employees to help buy a franchise is not a good look. The investigation is ongoing and more information will be be made available as we move forward.