Today’s news that two executives at Pilot Flying J, the billion-dollar truck-stop mega-company founded by the Haslam family and run by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, pleaded guilty to federal charges confirms that multiple employees were involved in a scam that entailed defrauding customers of rebates.
In the aftermath of the guilty pleas, Haslam’s lawyer reiterated what Haslam has been saying for weeks: Haslam didn’t know about the fraud.
“Given the raid by federal agents on April 15, 2013 and the affidavit that was filed by FBI agents, this comes as no surprise,” attorney Aubrey Harwell told newsnet5.com. “You cannot read the affidavit and not realize that people acted inappropriately and agreed to plead guilty.”
The problem for Haslam is that same affidavit contains quotes from a Pilot Flying J employee who told an undercover informant that Haslam was aware of the scam. As prosecutors commence harvesting guilty pleas along with likely commitments to cooperate in efforts to go higher up the corporate ladder, it could be only a matter of time before someone points the finger at Haslam.
Harwell already is suggesting that any such testimony would constitute a lie.
The lawyer, who represented former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo in the incident that resulted in DeBartolo becoming the former 49ers owner, is “very confident” the persons pleading guilty will “tell the truth,” and that any possibility that Haslam was involved is “non-existent.” Harwell also attributed to size of the company to Haslam’s lack of knowledge.
Meanwhile, Pilot Flying J issued a statement acknowledging the guilty pleas.
“The statements released by the federal court today do not come as a surprise given what we’ve been learning in our own internal investigations, but are nonetheless disappointing,” a company spokesman said. “We want to assure our customers that we are taking every step to correct any wrongdoing that has occurred and to make certain that it does not happen again.”
It definitely won’t happen again. The question is whether and to what extent upper-level executives will face charges for the fraud that already occurred.
For Haslam, both his liberty and his ability to continue owning the Browns could be riding on the outcome of that question.