SBD/April 24, 2013/Franchises

Goodell Stands By Browns' Haslam, Says League Had No Knowledge Of FBI Investigation

Haslam has made calls to make all prior agreements whole
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today said the league had no knowledge of the FBI investigation into Browns Owners Jimmy Haslam III. Speaking to reporters after a Play 60 Draft event in Manhattan, Goodell stood by Haslam and said he met with the owner yesterday. Haslam and his company, Pilot Flying J, are named in a federal lawsuit filed last week for allegedly defrauding trucking customers. He bought the Browns last year, and some have suggested the NFL should have known about the six-year investigation. Goodell replied the FBI does not, nor should it, share details of its investigations when the NFL does due dligence on a prospective owner. Haslam has denied knowing about the alleged fraud (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer). Meanwhile, CRAIN'S CLEVELAND BUSINESS' Kevin Kleps wrote under the header, “In All Candor, It’s Getting Harder To Have Confidence In Jimmy Haslam.” Kleps noted until the “mess” of the FBI and IRS investigation into Pilot Flying J is resolved, Haslam “should focus all of his efforts on cleaning up the family business, and leave the Browns” to team CEO Joe Banner. Haslam might “still be the honorable, confident, smooth face of the Browns many of us thought we were getting when he agreed to purchase the team from Randy Lerner.” But Kleps wrote, “Candidly, Jimmy, it's time to step away from your team for at least a couple of months” (CRAINSCLEVELAND.com, 4/23). A Cleveland PLAIN DEALER editorial states Haslam is “now trying desperately to salvage not only his company's reputation, but his own.” He has taken “increasingly aggressive steps at damage control” after first “suggesting the issues were relatively minor” (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/24). Meanwhile, SI.com’s Paul Forrester wondered what Haslam's role with the team “will be moving forward.” Former 49ers Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who was removed from the position because of a federal bribery indictment, “didn't survive (on NFL terms) his run-in with the feds, and he had five Super Bowl rings” (SI.com, 4/23).

TRYING TO MAKE GOOD: In Cleveland, John Caniglia in a front-page piece reports Haslam is “calling trucking companies, offering to pay back owners of firms who say they lost money in the fuel rebate program of Haslam's company.” But legal experts said that Haslam's calls “present a legal dilemma in his quest to clear his company's name.” Haslam yesterday “called Curt Morehouse of W.N. Morehouse Truck Line of Omaha and settled their financial dispute.” Morehouse “blasted Haslam and a company salesman last week on Facebook.” But Morehouse said that he was "pleased with Haslam's upfront style of doing business.” Nashville attorney Aubrey Harwell Jr., “hired as outside counsel for Pilot Flying J in the wake of the FBI raid, said Haslam's overtures to aggrieved customers were ‘totally appropriate.’” Harwell said, “There are allegations they have not been treated fairly. Mr. Haslam is determined to get to the bottom of those allegations, if in fact they are true, and pay those companies that are owed money." Still, many defense lawyers yesterday “appeared stunned that Haslam would make the calls, considering his role in the case and the issues involved” (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/24).
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