(Knoxville, TN) - Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam says he has suspended several members of the sales team at Pilot Flying J, the family-owned truck stop chain that is under a federal fraud investigation.
FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents last week raided the Knoxville headquarters of the country's largest diesel retailer. An affidavit filed in federal court alleges a widespread scheme to defraud customers.
Haslam, the privately held company's CEO and brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, on Tuesday didn't name the people placed on administrative leave. He has denied wrongdoing and dismissed suggestions he step aside from running Pilot or the Browns while the investigation is underway.
Secretly recorded conversations among the sales team said Haslam was aware of at least some instances of employees withholding rebates from Pilot customers.
Meanwhile, the NFL may be questioning if it made a mistake.
Accoring to a story in USA TODAY, league leaders are worried that approving Haslam as the Browns owner may end up reflecting poorly on the NFL.
"The league is very, very concerned," a person with key business dealings with the NFL and multiple owners told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
You'd think the NFL might have gained a whiff that this was coming while vetting the billionaire who heads one of the nation's largest family-owned businesses. The feds launched their investigation in May 2011.
"The NFL was completely blind-sided by this," the business associate said. "The NFL found out when the records were seized. That's not a good time to find out."
A lawsuit was also filed Saturday in Knox County, Tenn. circuit court against Pilot Flying J relating to those rebate funds.
FOX 8 News reports that Atlantic Coast Carriers and Wooten Enterprises president and CEO Olin Wooten claims the company did not receive rebates for a number of years.
“As the owner of the Browns, one would have hoped that Haslam’s company would treat those upon whom he relied for success as he bargained to do,” said Mark Tate, the attorney representing Wooten Enterprises.
On Sunday, Tate released a statement to Fox 8 News that said, “Tate Law Group is confident that not only are the facts and the law in our favor but so is the public sentiment. We are pleased and privileged to represent solid companies like Atlantic and others like it in these cases against Haslam and his company in this litigation. We expect to prevail.”
Atlantic Coast Carriers is a trucking company in Hazlehurst, Georgia.
Haslam is expected to be in Cleveland this week to prepare for Thursday's NHL Draft.
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