In the last paragraph of a very thorough look at the potential impact of the scandal involving Pilot Flying J on the ability of Jimmy Haslam to continue to own the Browns, Don Banks of SI.com writes that, according to league and team sources, “the idea of Haslam having to change his long-term status in team ownership in reaction to the fraud case seems unlikely.”
The key words in that sentence are “for now.”
Much remains unknown as it relates to the federal probe that launched months ago, with an employee secretly recording conversations at the behest of the FBI. Last month, the investigation culminated in the issuance of a search warrant that allowed the FBI and IRS to descend on the Pilot Flying J headquarters, seizing documents and computers and all sorts of other potential evidence that possibly will prove beyond a reasonable doubt fraud against multiple customers.
For starters, no one knows the contents of the documents and computers and all sorts of other potential evidence. There could be one or more smoking guns, for example, in emails sent or received by Haslam.
There also could be much more evidence that was harvested before the execution of the search warrant. The 120-page affidavit that resulted in the issuance of the search warrant mentions only one conversation indicating that Haslam was aware of the alleged scheme, with words coming not from Haslam but from another employee. There could be other, similar proof that the feds opted to withhold, for now.
Thus, the 120-page could be the tip of the iceberg. We just don’t know — and we won’t know unless and until the feds decide to pursue indictments.
Then there’s the possibility that one or more of the employees who currently are being pitched under the bus by Haslam’s apparent I-didn’t-know-what-the-scoundrels-who-work-for-me-were-doing strategy will trade immunity for testimony that Haslam at best was aware and at worst ordered the proverbial customer code red.
So while there likely won’t be an abundance of awkward moments this week when owners gather in Boston for their first meeting since the scandal broke, it’s impossible to know how this will unfold until we know more about the evidence that the FBI and IRS were, or weren’t, able to develop.