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Case against Pilot Flying J involves extensive recorded conversations

Jimmy Haslam AP

Predictably, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam denies wrongdoing by the company he runs, Pilot Flying J, in connection with customer discounts and rebates.  Even more predictably, the FBI and IRS wouldn’t have descended on company headquarters on Monday without evidence to support the allegations.

The evidence seems extensive, and much of it in the form of secretly recorded conversations.  Those conversations include an admission from a key employee of the company that Haslam was aware of the practice of shorting customers.

The 120-page affidavit was posted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer after being filed in court on Thursday.  We’ve read the entire thing.

The affidavit explains at paragraph 6 that a confidential informant contacted the FBI on or about May 4, 2011 to report that another employee of Pilot Flying J had confided “that certain Pilot employees had been intentionally defrauding some of Pilot’s Customers by deliberately charging these Customers a higher price than the contractually agreed upon price, and then concealing the fact and nature of this increased price from these victimized customers.”

The informant recorded conversations with the other employee, who then agreed to cooperate in the investigation.  The second employee, after entering into a non-prosecution agreement, provided information about the fraudulent practices — and began recording conversations with other Pilot Flying J employees.

The affidavit contains excerpts from numerous conversations and meetings.  For example, at paragraph 63 of the affidavit Pilot Flying J V.P. of Sales John Freeman had this to say during an October 25, 2012 Regional Directors meeting at Freeman’s lake house:   “Hey this is a game.  We’re playin’ f–kin’ poker with funny money, and it’s liar’s poker with funny money because of all this cost-plus stuff.  So, you know, I’m not, I don’t want to get into a moral or ethical conversation, because I believe that if a guy’s gonna butt-f–k you then we got to go to butt-f–kin’ him harder. . . . Some people are tits and some people ass guys and some people want their discount managed through the system and some people like a big check.  I mean, f–k, sell it to ’em the way they want to buy.  And understand, the f–ker’s got the ability to know what the hell you’re doing to ‘em.  Okay?”

Freeman said later in the meeting, “F–k ’em early and f–k ’em often.”

Freeman referred repeatedly to having to “buy an airplane” when Western Express, a trucking company, realized what was happening.  Specifically, instead of paying Western Express $1 million to rectify the situation, Pilot Flying J bought an airplane from Western Express that was on the books for $7 million, and on which Western Express owed $1 million.

At paragraph 81 of the affidavit, a recorded conversation contains an admission from Freeman that Haslam knew about the Western Express situation.  “[H]e knew all along that I was cost-plussin’ this guy,” Freeman said.  “He knew it all along.  Loved it.  We were makin’ $450,000 a month on him why wouldn’t he love it?. . .  Did it for five years, cost us a million bucks.  I mean, we made $6 million on the guy, cost us a million bucks.”

The recorded conversations potentially represent the tip of the evidentiary iceberg.  The affidavit was submitted to justify the search warrants that the FBI and IRS executed on Monday.  The company’s files and computers (including email chatter) possibly will contain many more references to the alleged scheme.

In the interim, Pilot Flying J should prepare to buy more planes.  While the company allegedly preyed on unsophisticated trucking companies by shorting them on discounts and rebates, those unsophisticated trucking companies are likely sophisticated enough to hire lawyers who will sue Pilot Flying J for a full refund, plus punitive damages.

Likewise, Pilot Flying J can now count on its competitors aggressively trying to convert customers by printing off the affidavit, highlighting some of the comments from Freeman, and asking those customers if they really want to continue doing business with a company like Pilot Flying J.

While these are only allegations and both the company and its employees are entitled to the presumption of innocence, the contents of the affidavit paint a picture that can get ugly for Haslam, in multiple ways.  As to the biggest question — whether Haslam will face criminal liability — the most important witness of them all could end up being John Freeman.

If Freeman flips and gives persuasive testimony against Haslam, Jimmy could be going down.

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Dez Bryant recently made agent change

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 21:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates his touchdown reception against the Indianapolis Colts in the first half at AT&T Stadium on December 21, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

In the wake of Thursday’s item regarding the potential unintended consequences of Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant’s decision to fight a lawsuit filed against him by Texas state senator Royce West with a lawsuit of his own, some league insiders have expressed confusion about the move, given that Bryant’s representation team includes agent Tom Condon, who surely has the ability to connect the dots from Bryant taking a fight with trusted advisors like Royce West and David Wells public and the havoc those trusted advisors could create if motivated to do so.

It’s a good point. But here’s the problem: Condon no longer is a member of the representation team.

Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal recently reported that Bryant ended the joint arrangement of Condon and Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports by parting ways with Condon and keeping Roc Nation. So, presumably, Condon didn’t have a chance to warn Bryant about the pitfalls of alleging that West and Wells (who is not yet a party to the litigation) misappropriated funds and/or failed to maximize his earning potential through endorsements and other marketing deals.

It’s unclear whether Bryant was warned and ignored the advice, or whether no one bothered to tell him that throwing stones at a couple of guys who were once in his inner circle could create all sorts of problems within the confines of the litigation, and possibly beyond. If the litigation quietly goes away sooner than later, that could be a result of Bryant getting and heeding the message on a better-late-than-never basis.

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NFL insists players named in PED report must give interviews

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The NFL is not backing down on its insistence that the players named in an Al Jazeera documentary about performance-enhancing drugs must agree to interviews as part of the league’s investigation.

The players involved are Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, Steelers linebacker James Harrison and free agent (and former Packer) Mike Neal. Peyton Manning is also part of the NFL’s investigation, although his retirement means he’s no longer a member of the NFL Players Association and not a part of the ongoing battle between the league and the union over whether players must give interviews to league investigators.

The four players submitted affidavits responding to the allegations made against them in the Al Jazeera documentary, but Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the NFL still insists that affidavits aren’t good enough, and they must give interviews.

The players’ union insists that the NFL has no right to investigate players unless there’s “credible evidence” that they used PEDs. The NFL says the league only needs credible evidence to impose discipline, not to launch an investigation. The league plans to send investigators to Packers camp and Steelers camp to interview the players, but the players are expected to decline to be interviewed.

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Browns add Nick Hayden

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The Browns announced the signing of veteran defensive lineman Nick Hayden Friday.

The team was in the market for defensive line help after defensive end Desmond Bryant suffered a torn pectoral. Bryant is expected to miss the entire 2016 season.

Hayden has played in 76 career games over seven seasons with the Panthers, Bengals and Cowboys. He started 47 of 48 games over the last three seasons with the Cowboys.

Hayden, 30, was a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2008. He has two career sacks and two fumble recoveries.

The addition of Hayden puts the Browns at the cap of 90 players on the active roster. The Browns open full training camp July 29.

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Bears cut Omar Bolden

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The Bears released defensive back Omar Bolden Friday, just a few months after signing him in free agency.

Per ESPN’s Adam Caplan, the Bears in March had guaranteed Bolden $80,000 on a one-year contract worth a total of $840,000.

A fourth-round pick of the Broncos in 2012, Bolden played in 56 games in four years in Denver. He had been handling the punt return duties for the Broncos before suffering a knee injury during the playoffs last January.

Bolden had his first career punt return touchdown last season. He only missed one game over his first three seasons before injuries limited him to nine games last season.

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Moss: Dennis Green picked the right words, right beats

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Former Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss shared some memories of former Vikings coach Dennis Green Friday on ESPN’s NFL Live, and Moss remembered one Monday Night Football game during his rookie season for which Green was especially wound up.

“It was a big game, and I remember Coach Green saying throughout the week that he was going to unleash something on the Packers,” Moss said. “Before the game, some of us were playing some beats on the lockers. Now, everybody knew Coach Green liked to play the drums. He played some beats on the lockers, too, but after a minute he started playing the same beat [the players were], not his own. Everybody was geeked up, riled up and ready to go play the Packers.

“He would always say, ‘There’s only one ball. You have to play to one beat.'”

The Vikings won that game, 37-24. Moss had five catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

Green died Friday at age 67. He coached the Vikings for 11 seasons, eight of them playoff seasons, and later was head coach of the Cardinals.

Moss was just officially hired by ESPN. He was a rookie in 1998, when the Vikings went 15-1 and Moss caught 17 touchdowns for what was the highest-scoring offense in league history to that point.

“Coach Green gave me a chance,” Moss said. “I remember him on draft day calling and asking if I was ready to become a Viking. The answer was yes.

“Today I’ve been reading a lot of the comments and the positive things people are saying about him…and they’re very true. He meant a lot to me and meant a lot to others. His legacy will live on.”

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Colts’ Arthur Jones suspended four games for PEDs

Arthur Jones AP

Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones has been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Jones can participate in training camp and the preseason but will have to sit out the first four games of the regular season. He can return to the Colts on Monday, October 3.

This is the second time this month that a member of the Jones family has been suspended for violating a PED policy. Jones’s brother, UFC fighter Jon Jones, was pulled from his light heavyweight championship fight after he tested positive for two substances banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. (The Joneses also have a third brother, Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones.)

Arthur Jones missed the entire 2015 season after suffering an ankle injury in the preseason.

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Elliott’s father says his son did no wrong, the truth will come out

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Running back Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State runs with the ball during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Stacy Elliott, the father of Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, released a statement Friday in which he denied any wrongdoing by his son in regard to recent allegations of domestic violence.

“The reported allegations and Internet postings regarding our son are completely false,” Stacy Elliott’s statement said. “Ezekiel has done nothing wrong. The police have investigated this matter and eyewitnesses have verified the lack of any wrongdoing. The actual evidence in this matter clearly indicates what the real motivation was behind the police being called.

“We are confident that when the truth comes to light it will reveal the falsity of these claims. Ezekiel has been fully cooperative with the police and will continue to do so — along with cooperating with the NFL — moving forward.”

The NFL is investigating the allegations made by a 20-year old woman in Columbus, Ohio, where Ezekiel Elliott starred at Ohio State.

Separate reports that have been published Friday say that the incident stemmed from Elliott and the woman breaking up, and also that the Cowboys don’t believe the allegations are true.

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Eagles cut a wide receiver, leaving them three roster spots to fill

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The Eagles made a roster move in advance of reporting to training camp this weekend, giving them three spots to fill.

The team announced they had released wide receiver Jonathan Krause, who was with the team last season.

They now have 87 on the roster, giving them room for some additions before rookies and selected veterans start reporting Sunday.

Krause, who was undrafted out of Vanderbilt in 2014, has also spent time on the practice squads of the Browns and Patriots as well.

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Bill Belichick has the NFL’s least diverse coaching staff

Belichick Getty Images

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has assembled the least diverse staff of any head coach in the NFL, according to an ESPN study of diversity in NFL coaching.

Belichick’s staff of 14 coaches includes just two minorities, meaning the Patriots have the NFL’s least diverse staff, according to ESPN. Those numbers do not include strength coaches and other non-football personnel.

Only three NFL teams have coaching staffs on which at least half the assistants are minorities, and all three have minority head coaches: Ron Rivera’s Panthers, Todd Bowles’s Jets and Mike Tomlin’s Steelers. The five coaching staffs with the lowest percentage of minority assistants — New England, Jacksonville, San Diego, Dallas and Washington — all have white head coaches.

As one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, Belichick will get the benefit of the doubt in a way other coaches would not: It’s hard to argue, given his success, that Belichick has done anything other than hire the most qualified assistants regardless of skin color.

On the other hand, given that Bill’s son Steve Belichick is the Patriots’ safeties coach and Bill’s other son Brian Belichick is a new Patriots scouting assistant, the Patriots may deserve some criticism for perpetuating the NFL’s old boys network.

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Report: Ezekiel Elliott incident stemmed from breakup of relationship

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Draftee Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State arrives to the 2016 NFL Draft on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

A he-said/she-said situation seems to be shaping up regarding the assault allegations against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a source claims that the incident stemmed from the fact the first-rounder from Ohio State broke off a relationship with the woman.

The source said the “alleged victim said she would ruin him if he did.”

That version of the story seems to be going around quickly, and Elliott already has members of the Cowboys family vouching for him.

In addition to the team choosing to believe his side of the story at the moment, Elliott has also been in communication with Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.

Irvin said on the “Rich Eisen Show” that he had spoken and texted with Elliott today since the first reports emerged, and that Elliott denied any wrongdoing.

Irvin said Elliott told him “I didn’t put my hands on her.”

Of course, we haven’t heard the accuser’s side of the story, beyond photos of the injuries which were posted online this morning. Interviews with witnesses provided varying reports, and no charges were filed by police, though the case was referred to prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio.

The NFL has said it would investigate the case for possible violations of the personal conduct policy.

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Report: Cowboys don’t believe allegations against Ezekiel Elliott are true

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State holds up a jersey after being picked #4 overall by the Dallas Cowboys during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cowboys aren’t making any official statement about allegations of domestic violence against rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not skeptical of them.

According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys “don’t believe the allegations against Elliott are true.”

Of course, they can’t say that out loud at the moment, having just spent a year scraping the Greg Hardy off their boots.

But at the moment, there are no criminal charges, and the league has said it will investigate the incident.

Until more facts are known, the Cowboys would be wise to say little regarding their first-round pick, who is expected to play a major role for them this year as long as he’s available.

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Vikings mourn Dennis Green

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The man who coached the Vikings for nearly a decade died Friday. The team has issued the following statement regarding Dennis Green.

“We are incredibly saddened by the sudden passing of former Vikings head coach Dennis Green,” the team said in a statement. “Denny made his mark in ways far beyond being an outstanding football coach. He mentored countless players and served as a father figure for the men he coached. Denny founded the Vikings Community Tuesday Program, a critical initiative that is now implemented across the entire NFL. He took great pride in helping assistant coaches advance their careers. His tenure as one of the first African-American head coaches in both college and the NFL was also transformative. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Green family.”

Green coached the Vikings from 1992 into 2001, leading the team to eight playoff appearances and a pair of berths in the NFC title game.

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Michael Bidwill hails Dennis Green as innovator and pioneer

Arizona's head coach Dennis Green during the first half of the Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals NFL game at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington on Sunday, September 17, 2006. (Photo by Kevin Casey/NFLPhotoLibrary) Getty Images

The death of former Vikings and Cardinals coach Dennis Green has sparked many remembrances from around the league on Friday, including one from Cardinals president Michael Bidwill.

“All of us at the Cardinals are incredibly saddened by the news of Dennis Green’s passing,” Bidwill said in a statement. “Coach Green will rightly be remembered as a true innovator, leader and pioneer among football coaches. We express our deepest sympathy to his family and his many friends.”

Green coached the Cardinals from 2004-2006 in a tenure that is often remembered for one of the most memorable press conferences of all time. It didn’t feature as much winning as Green experienced during his time in Minnesota, but the seeds of Arizona’s first-ever trip to the Super Bowl were planted under Green as they drafted players like Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, Antonio Smith and Antrel Rolle in his first two years with the team.

Dockett was one of many current and former players to share their sadness on social media Friday. Former Vikings running back Robert Smith wrote on Twitter that he felt like he just lost his father when he heard of Green’s death and Smith’s teammate Jake Reed expressed shock at the loss.

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NFL will investigate Ezekiel Elliott allegations

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With an allegation of domestic violence being made against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, the rookie automatically has a separate potential problem: The NFL will investigate the situation, too.

“[W]e begin a review when we become aware of a potential violation of the personal conduct policy,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy too PFT via email.

The policy applies to all rookies once they are drafted. A question remains regarding whether the alleged misconduct happened before or after the Cowboys made Elliott the fourth overall pick in the draft.

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Cedric Cobbs avoids jail, tells judge he’s being treated for brain injury

DENVER - JULY 29:  Running back Cedric Cobbs #34 of the Denver Broncos heads onto the field during training camp on July 29, 2006 at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre in Arapahoe County near Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Former Patriots and Broncos running back Cedric Cobbs avoided jail time on drug charges, in part because of a suspected brain injury from his days playing football.

Cobbs was given probation and community service after pleading guilty to charges of using a telephone to facilitate the distribution conspiracy, in a prescription pain pill ring

And according to Linda Satter of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cobbs avoiding jail came in part because his lawyer told the judge he is believed to be suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy from his days playing football. Cobbs’ lawyer said he’s been treated at a California clinic which specializes in sports-related brain injuries, and that reports from the center showed he was making progress.

Cobbs told the judge Thursday that his divorce and inability to provide for his family after his short NFL career led to depression.

“I became desperate. I became angry,” he said. “I felt that I was pretty much out here alone, . . . with no one showing me direction. I felt invisible.”

Cobbs said that led to prescription drugs, and eventually being charged as part of a ring of oxycodone distribution.

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