Browns Owner Faces Criminal Investigation

Jimmy Haslam Jr

As a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan I have faced some very trying times. Browns fans have suffered through Red Right 88The Drive, and The Fumble just to name a few of the worst Browns’ memories. However, this week the Browns have found a new way to disappoint their long suffering fans and demonstrate why their stadium is known as the Factory of Sadness.

New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, Jr. was supposed to bring the Browns back to their glory days. He brought a jolt of energy to the franchise when he purchased the team in 2012. He was the exact opposite of former owner Randy Lerner. Haslam was personable, accessible, and a leader.

Haslam’s family made their billions from the gas station business. Haslam’s dad, James Haslam, first formed Pilot Corporation in 1958. They started out with one gas station which had four pumps. After years of hard work Pilot grew into a nationwide company. Jimmy Haslam, Jr. began working at the company in the early 70’s and then became CEO in 1994. The company continued to grow and later merged with Flying J. The company is now known as Pilot Flying J and has over 550 locations in 23 states and Canada, and employs over 23,000 people. Oh, and Jimmy’s brother Bill Haslam is the Governor of Tennessee.

So Jimmy Haslam, Jr. decided he wanted to get into the NFL business. He first started out by buying a minority share in the Pittsburgh Steelers (blech, cough cough. Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth.). Apparently Haslam liked the idea of owning an NFL team so he put out feelers on purchasing his own team. Enter the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns have a long and storied football tradition. Boasting one of the best fan bases and strong community support, the Browns were an ideal choice for Haslam. Then Browns owner Randy Lerner was more than eager to sell. Lerner had purchased a European soccer team years earlier and his focus seemed to be on English futbol instead of the American style. Haslam agreed to purchase the team for $1 billion and Browns fans were ecstatic. But diehard Browns fans were waiting for the other shoe to drop. The penalty which negated the touchdown. The fumble after a long gain. In other words, the inevitable bad news which follows the Browns around like Pig Pen’s cloud of dust. It hit last week.

On the day of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, news out of Knoxville, Tennessee (Pilot’s headquarters) reported that the building had been locked down by the F.B.I. It quickly became apparent that the lock down was not due to any security threats however. Pilot was being investigated by the F.B.I. for failing to rebate money to its customers.

The affidavits which led to the search warrants were made public. Not only did Pilot appear to pocket rebates meant to go the the customers, the allegations stated that Haslam was aware of the scheme and approved it. Criminal charges could be coming and the federal government seems to have enough evidence to indict Haslam personally. If that happens, Haslam could be stripped of his Browns ownership just like Eddie DeBartolo, the former 49ers owner who was caught up in the scandal involving former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards.

And of course all of this occurs 10 days before the NFL Draft which to Browns fans is the best time of the year.

I’ve been practicing law for almost 19 years. The last thing you want is for the Federal Government to investigate you. They have all the resources in the world and time is never an issue. They will investigate you for years to build a case. They appear to have done just that in the case against Pilot and Jimmy Haslam, Jr. Browns fans can only shake their heads and add “The Rebate” to a long list of disappointments.

Being a Browns fan has prepared me for life as a trial lawyer. The ups and downs, the stress, the disappointments. It’s a challenge indeed. Luckily Coxwell & Associates have had better luck than the Browns. To learn more about our firm go to our website.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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