When free agency opened up a little over a month ago, the Cleveland Browns vowed that they would make waves with their ample reserves of cap space. Little did they know that their new owner, Jimmy Haslam, might also be making waves, but for different, and altogether illegal, reasons. In addition to being the owner of the Browns, Haslam is also the CEO of Pilot Flying J travel center company. The same Pilot Flying J travel center company that is currently the subject of a new 120-page FBI affidavit concerning widespread rebate fraud.
According to the affidavit, not only is the company alleged to have "withheld fuel price rebates and discounts in an attempt to boost the profitability of the company and increase their sales commissions," but Haslam and current Pilot president Mark Hazelwood were also well aware that the fraud was taking place.
Not surprisingly, Haslam has since denied any wrongdoing, stating that he "disagreed with the government's allegations."
If the affidavit is proved true, however, Haslam and the Pilot Flying J company could be in a whole heap of trouble. As per an article on Cleveland.com, the FBI's investigation spanned almost two years and collected quite a bit of dirt.
The document, written by an FBI agent who specializes in public corruption and white-collar crime, said the investigation began May 4, 2011, when a source told the FBI that Pilot employees had been targeting some companies who were "too unsophisticated to catch that their agreed-upon deal with Pilot was being changed to benefit Pilot without the knowledge of those customers." The affidavit alleges the scheme took place for at least five to seven years. One company, W.N. Morehouse Truckline of Omaha, Neb., lost nearly $150,000 in the scheme.
Sounds like we haven't heard the last of this story. The Browns were hoping for a fresh start when they acquired a new owner and cleaned house with a new coaching staff to start 2013, but this probably wasn't the fresh start they had in mind.