Sports

Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam in Hot Water Over Alleged Rebate Scheme

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The owner of the Cleveland Browns is under intense scrutiny amid accusations he knew about rebate fraud at the truck stop chain his family owns, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday.

Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, a nationwide trucking chain headquartered in Knoxville, has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the case.

The 120-page document alleges that members of Pilot Flying J’s sales force took advantage of smaller trucking companies by reducing the amount of rebates they were owed for buying certain amounts of fuel. Further, a company employee reportedly told investigators that the rebate scheme was often discussed during sales meetings attended by Haslam and Pilot president Mark Hazlewood.

The employee also said the practice was known by a variety of terms, such as “manual rebates” to “screwing.”

The affidavit was filed to secure search warrants for a raid which took place Monday at Pilot’s Knoxville headquarters.

“I maintain that the foundation of this company is built on its integrity and that any willful wrongdoing by any employee of this company at any time is intolerable,” Haslam said in a statement issued Thursday. “We will continue to cooperate with the federal investigation and continue our own investigation in these allegations. I value the relationships we have with our customers, our vendors and our team members across this country and regret that they have to go through this with us, but I trust and believe their faith in this company and its principles has never been misplaced."

Authorities began looking into Pilot J Flying in May 2011 after being contacted by a confidential informant who had reportedly learned about the scheme through a Pilot employee. The investigation, which continued up until this month, also involved secretly recorded conversations among Pilot employees holding frank – and at times profane – discussions about the rebate scheme.

Pilot Flying J, a privately held company with annual revenues of $29 billion, is the nation's No. 1 retailer of diesel fuel. It is mostly owned by Haslam; his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; their father and company founder, Jim Haslam; and other family members.

Haslam, who purchased the Browns in a $1 billion deal last summer, will not be asked to step aside from the franchise during the investigation, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Haslam was in Cleveland on Thursday to help prepare for next week's NFL draft.

Sources: ESPN, NFL Network

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