INDIANAPOLIS – Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is headed back to Cleveland today after addressing hundreds of transportation company executives Thursday morning in the wake of the FBI's investigation into alleged fraud committed by his family business, Pilot Flying J.
Speaking at the Scopelitis Transportation Seminar at the Hilton Indianapolis Hotel & Suites, Haslam addressed the allegations in front of packed conference room. He took questions that had previously been sent to moderators from seminar attendees. Bill Graves, former Kansas governor and current president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, read the questions.
Following his address, Haslam briefly met with reporters and reiterated his comments from last week's appearance in Westlake at the Northeast Ohio chapter National Football Foundation's annual scholar-athlete dinner.
"I think I said this last week but we apologize for the cloud that this puts, at least temporarily, on the Browns but I remain just as much if not more excited about the Browns and the long-term opportunity here," said Haslam. "What everybody needs to understand is that this is a company, Pilot Flying J, that has been in business for 54 years and we plan on being in business for another 54 years. This is a blip. It may be a substantial blip but it in no way jeopardizes our ownership of the Browns, number one, or our commitment to the Browns."
Haslam said he was heading to Cleveland to spend the day working "On everything from what our new uniforms are going to look like to how corporate sales are going."
He plans on attending practice today and having dinner with members of the sales team tonight.
"We are just as committed and just as excited about the Browns as we ever have been," said Haslam. "This (investigation) has been a little bit of a distraction, obviously, the past few weeks but things are starting to settle down. I'm looking forward to spending time in Cleveland."
Haslam said he has had continual communication with the NFL regarding the ongoing FBI investigation but did not expand on what that all entails.
"Just continual communication," said Haslam. "We have great communication."
Haslam accepted the invitation from the law firm of Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary to speak at its annual client seminar. The firm represents 5,000 clients in the transportation and logistics industries across the country.
While five class action law suits have been filed against Pilot Flying J, Scopetitis has advised its clients to not join, said Greg Feary, president and managing partner of Scopelitis. The law firm is conducting its own investigation into the allegations.
"At this point we don't see a reason to interject ourselves into the middle of it and create lawsuits, create legal proceedings and create costs," said Feary.
Feary said he wasn't surprised Haslam accepted the invitation.
"We understood that he was reaching out to so many different trucking companies and clients already," said Feary. "He wasn't hiding behind his lawyers, so when we contacted him and he said, ‘yeah, I want to come,' that didn't surprise me. I think there are a fair number of people who would be fearful of getting in a circumstance like this."
Haslam again denied any first-hand knowledge of the alleged fraud, a stance he has maintained since the FBI raided the Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 15. An FBI affidavit claims Haslam was aware of the fraud being committed by his sales people, who are accused of short-changing some trucking companies of money through the Pilot Flying J rebate program.
"Absolutely not," said Haslam. "I take responsibility for what happens at PFJ as the guy at the top of the shop but I was absolutely not aware of any of this and I think it's important to state that and state that on record in front of our customers."
Kevin Goheen appears courtesy of FoxSportsOhio.com.