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Haslam’s company hires lawyer who represented Eddie DeBartolo

Jimmy Haslam AP

With plenty of NFL observers already comparing the case against the company run by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam to the case that brought down Eddie DeBartolo as owner of the 49ers, Haslam voluntarily has made another connection between the two situations.

Pilot Flying J has hired the lawyer who represented DeBartolo against federal charges in Louisiana:  Aubrey Harwell, Jr., of Nashville.

Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer dusts off the DeBartolo case, which resulted in the popular owner stepping aside as an indictment was looming, then pleading guilty to the failure to report a felony extortion attempt in connection with the procurement of a gambling license, and ultimately receiving in 1999 a one-year suspension from former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

It’s difficult to draw parallels between the DeBartolo and Haslam situations, in part because the NFL dramatically has adjusted over the last 14 years its approach to discipline.  That same year, for example, Tagliabue suspended former Rams defensive end Leonard Little only eight games after he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter while driving with nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

It’s also difficult to gauge Haslam’s potential responsibility.  Harwell already has crafted talking points that, if accurate, would insulate Haslam and other family members from responsibility.

“I can tell you that Mr. Haslam is in and out of a lot of meetings but he was not aware of any improprieties,” Harwell told Walter F. Roche, Jr. of the Tennessean.  Harwell admitted that some allegations in the 120-page affidavit filed on Thursday “cause concern,” but Harwell insists that the Haslam family “had no knowledge of any impropriety.”

The problem the company faces is that it now must determine whether improprieties occurred, and rectify them.  “Senior management is going to get to the bottom of this and they will do what is right and repay any customers if they are owed anything,” Harwell said.

The bigger problem is that Pilot Flying J customers may scatter, which depending on the way Haslam structured his purchase of the Browns could disrupt his vow that it will be “business as usual” for the team.

“We feel like they got us,” Titan Transfer Inc. owner Tommy Hodges told the Tennessean.  “We fit the profile of exactly what they were doing.  We were in the rebate program, and we always had a tough time reconciling the checks we were getting with our records of fuel purchases.”

The affidavit filed Thursday suggests that the company would shrug the scheme off as a computer error, if/when a customer got wise to it.

“We had a feeling that the error was not an accident, but had no proof,” Morehouse Trucking manager Curt Morehouse said in a statement issued to the Associated Press.  “It is now obvious from the affidavits that it was not an accident.  We hope that Mr. Haslam has the courage to make whole the other companies that his company defrauded.”

And that crystallizes the dilemma Haslam faces.  If he circles the wagons and insists no one did anything wrong, he risks going down with the ship.  If he admits to widespread fraud, he comes off as an inept and out-of-touch manager.

In the end, the question becomes whether the feds can marshal enough evidence to prove that Haslam knew about the situation.  That’s where the situation gets even more delicate for Haslam.  If key employees who orchestrated and implemented the scheme sense that Haslam is throwing them under the proverbial bus, they may escape into the arms of immunity from prosecution, in exchange for testifying against Haslam.

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20 Responses to “Haslam’s company hires lawyer who represented Eddie DeBartolo”
  1. thesteelers says: Apr 21, 2013 7:15 AM

    LOL!

  2. thesteelers says: Apr 21, 2013 7:20 AM

    This is going to get fun. Sorry, Cleveland, but LOL!

  3. nyyjetsknicks says: Apr 21, 2013 7:29 AM

    Should have hired Jackie Chiles.

  4. uwsptke says: Apr 21, 2013 7:31 AM

    And that’s why Freeman is still employed. Haslam knows if he fires him, he’ll roll over on him.

  5. kevingreene160sacknoHOFclub says: Apr 21, 2013 7:35 AM

    This whole situation is despicable. Again it’s time to change ownership in Cleveland. Hey LA, how’s that stadium deal coming?

  6. hmpennypacker says: Apr 21, 2013 7:44 AM

    This is just black comedy. If Haslam says he knew nothing of this he’s lying. He should be stripped of his ownership at the end of this but I’m sure that won’t happen.

  7. franklinandbashandflorio says: Apr 21, 2013 7:44 AM

    Blame it on he rain.

    -Milli Vanilli

  8. george1859 says: Apr 21, 2013 7:51 AM

    Cleveland, just like Buffalo, cant get a break from the football gods.
    Just WTF did we do to deserve this?

  9. thesteelers says: Apr 21, 2013 7:57 AM

    We LOL @ everything Browns

    Cleveland is beyond cursed.

  10. brownstain says: Apr 21, 2013 8:30 AM

    Sorry Cleveland haters but Cleveland will never be without a football team – there’s simply too much money to be made there. That is why they sold for such a high price. The fans continue to buy tickets a go to the games no matter how awful the on-field product is. In the end, all the NFL cares about is profit.

  11. petedutcher says: Apr 21, 2013 8:53 AM

    If he is proven guilty, what steps does the nfl take? They can’t take the team without compensation can they?

    And if the feds freeze his assets, how would that effect the Browns? Would they be able to operate?

  12. johanvil says: Apr 21, 2013 9:04 AM

    I’ll grab my popcorn

  13. apollo1989 says: Apr 21, 2013 9:08 AM

    Since roger likes to give out punishments about 6-7 times harsher than his predecessor I would expect Haslem to get about a 7 year suspension.

  14. ballboy48 says: Apr 21, 2013 9:15 AM

    This has nothing to do with Cleveland’s operation. They have their football people in place, and players. If this were the Cowboys, and Jerry was in trouble, then the Cowboys might be better off.

    If the NFL made Haslam sell, the Browns would be sold so quick, just because of their loyal following, and there ability to sell tickets, regardless of how bad they have been.

  15. norcalseahawkfan says: Apr 21, 2013 10:05 AM

    I owned my own truck for 5 years and bought plenty of fuel at Pilots and Flyin J’s. I wonder if I was gettin ripped off along with all the others. I really dont see any humor in this and I have alot of friends that still own there own trucks. In a business that every penny counts this a big deal.

  16. therealpittbull says: Apr 21, 2013 10:40 AM

    Formalities. Who would lawyer up, when you have “The Authorities” combing through your personal items, accusing you of whatever. But, I will say that Jimmy looks to have that nervous chuckle, like a kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I hope all turns out though. I want Cleveland to make a return to the upper elite teams in the league. Pittsburgh needs a little brother to beat up on again.

  17. denverdude7 says: Apr 21, 2013 11:21 AM

    Ahhh Jimmy, we hardly knew ya.

    I hope the Feds finally show some backbone and demand jail time rather than the continued big fine, no admission of wrongdoing crap we keep seeing these days.

    Being rich shouldn’t place anyone above the law but these days it obviously does.

    It’s time to enforce this countries laws !!!!!!!

  18. officialgame says: Apr 21, 2013 11:25 AM

    Glad to see Haslam is getting a fair trial on PFT.

  19. CKL says: Apr 21, 2013 12:01 PM

    Real leadership is doing the right thing, even if it means your career as a CEO is over. If his company did defraud people, he needs to pay them back, with interest.

  20. jrs45 says: Apr 21, 2013 2:08 PM

    That’s why you can’t trust a squealer lol. Go back to armPitt

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