Since football season began, the football media hasn’t been paying far more attention to the football team Jimmy Haslam owns than the billion-dollar truck-stop business his family founded.
On Monday, a day after the Browns won their second straight game after supposedly giving up on the season (some would say that only the Browns could screw up trying to lose), Haslam delivered a 12-minute statement regarding the ongoing legal issues involving Pilot Flying J.
“This has been a very humbling, very embarrassing time,” Haslam said, via John Caniglia of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Seven Pilot Flying J sales employees have pleaded guilty to fraud charges arising from a rebate program that withheld money from customers.
The timing of the press conference is a bit unusual. Unless Haslam has been told he won’t be charged criminally (which is unlikely, given that he declined to answer questions), anything he says can be used against him by prosecutors. Still, the comments undoubtedly are aimed at boosting the company’s business interests in some tangible way.
In addition to the criminal probe, numerous civil lawsuits have been filed. A nationwide settlement tentatively has been approved, but multiple customers plan to opt out and pursue their own recoveries.
Haslam described efforts to reimburse customers as “mammoth” and the efforts of those who helped determine the amounts owed “heroic.” But he nevertheless downplayed the extent of the fraud, calling the underpayments an “extremely small percentage” and a “fractional amount” of the company’s sales.
Several weeks have passed since the latest guilty pleas. Prosecutors have been tight-lipped about the situation, allowing those who admit to violations of federal law do the talking with their acceptance of responsibility for it.