BEREA — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam apologized to Cleveland on Tuesday after Pilot Flying J was raided by the FBI and IRS on Monday in Knoxville, Tenn., and remains under investigation.
Haslam is CEO of Pilot Flying J, and his father, Jim, founded the company.
“I apologize, because the last thing we ever wanted to do is put any kind of blemish on the city of Cleveland, which we’ve grown to love, or the Browns,” Haslam said during a news conference in Knoxville. “I personally feel bad about that. Even though I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong.”
The question about the Browns was asked by a reporter from WEWS TV-5 in Cleveland. Haslam said he’s been in communication with Browns CEO Joe Banner, president Alec Scheiner, general manager Michael Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski.
“Second of all, it’s business as usual,” Haslam said. “They’re obviously, ‘Is everything OK?’ I said, ‘We’ll manage things down here. You guys, it’s the first week we can really practice on the field, so let’s focus on that. We got the draft coming up, so let’s focus on that.’
“We’ll be going there I believe Thursday and Friday, just as planned, for draft preparation. We’ll be there almost all of next week. So we’ll look forward to that.”
The draft begins April 25.
Haslam bought the Browns from Randy Lerner for $1 billion last year. The deal became official in October.
Haslam said the criminal investigation is focused on rebates Pilot Flying J – a nationwide operator of truck stops — gives to trucking companies.
“It appears to be a very insignificant number of customers and the application of rebates,” he said. “That the rebates that were owed to the customers were not paid. We, of course, disagree with that.”
Haslam said he doesn’t know why the IRS is involved, because he believes the investigation isn’t tax-related. He said Pilot Flying J has started an internal review.
“We run a tight ship,” he said. “So we have immediately begun our internal investigation. In typical Pilot Flying J fashion it will be very quick and very thorough.”