Browns owner Jimmy Haslam apparently has received — and is heeding — advice from his lawyers regarding the fact that anything he says can and will be used against him, if/when he personally faces charges for fraud allegedly committed by the billion-dollar, family-owned truck-stop company he runs.
As a result, Haslam met with the media again on Monday, but instead of speaking extemporaneously and then answering questions, he read from a lengthy prepared statement that surely was written or at least reviewed and revised by one or more lawyers.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has the full text of the statement, which says nothing about the Browns. While the smartest move at this point would be to say nothing at all about anything, Haslam realizes that his customers could scatter and his employees could flee and the entire operation could disintegrate without real efforts to hold the business together.
But in starting the process of rebuilding trust and restoring confidence, Haslam comes dangerously close to admitting that improprieties occurred. For example, in explaining that the company will now have a “Chief Compliance Officer,” Haslam basically acknowledges that, if whoever blew the whistle to the feds had a way to blow the whistle internally, the whole thing could have been fixed without outside scrutiny.
“The establishment of a position of Chief Compliance Officer is important, because had we had one before, perhaps some team member would have raised a question about manual rebates internally before anyone would ever have gone to federal investigators,” Haslam said.
Haslam also continues to emphasize that the situation affects only a “narrow” portion of the company’s business. But with 3,300 trucking-company customers, a lot of fraud can still happen to a “narrow” band of customers. Reciting instances of compliance with the lawyer is never a defense to the specific instances when the law was broken.
Most significantly, Haslam explained that the company placed on “administrative leave several members of our diesel fuel team.” Presumably, that includes V.P. of sales John Freeman, whose colorful and profane terms were caught on tape by an informant, along with an admission that Haslam was aware of the alleged rebate scam.
If/when Freeman agrees to testify against Haslam, Haslam will have a serious problem; in the interim, Haslam and his lawyers necessarily must commence preparations for painting this once-trusted employee as inherently unreliable, especially as to anything he would say under oath about Haslam.
Of course, none of it matters if Pilot Flying J ends up being driven into the ground by the loss of customers and personnel. Haslam’s statement from Monday is aimed at keeping that from happening.