The ongoing criminal investigation surrounding Johnny Manziel, is distracting the focus away from Jimmy Haslam and the illegal business-handling of Pilot Flying J, write Joe Russo.
The Johnny Manziel situation is about as sad as it gets. His troubles with substance abuse and domestic violence leave no excuses for him any longer. After a news cycle that saw Manziel dominate headlines, including reports of ruptured eardrums and drunken team meetings, it’s easy to forget about other trouble makers within the Cleveland Browns organization. I’m not talking about Armonty Bryant‘s drug charges either. I’m talking about the man at the top, Jimmy Haslam.
In documents released on Tuesday, the former President of Pilot Flying J, Mark Hazelwood, was among one of seven former executive to be indicted as part of an ongoing federal investigation that the company defrauded multiple trucking companies via Pilot Flying J’s rebate program. According to The Tennessean, Pilot Flying J defrauded customers of more than $56 million and has already incurred a federal penalty of $92 million as part of the case. The investigation has been going on since 2011, and while Haslam hasn’t been indicted to this point, there’s still a possibility it could happen.
The Tennessean also provides a timeline of each step of the investigation into the process that Pilot Flying J used to essentially rob their own customers. Highlights of the timeline include:
November and December of 2012- Pilot Flying J managers are recorded admitting to fraud on tape and discuss attempt to defraud Western Express Trucking
April 2013- VP of Sales John Freeman’s name appears in documents, alleging he discussed intentionally shorting customer rebates. The first lawsuit against the company is filed the same month.
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May and June 2013- Five Pilot Flying J employees plead guilty in federal court on charges of conspiracy and fraud. As part of the pleas, it is revealed employees intentionally reduced rebate rates and even targeted customers they felt would not be able to detect the reduced rebates.
January 2014- Three high-level executives please guilty, including National Sales Director Brian Mosher. He admitted to altering the spreadsheets that tracked customer rebates and that he performed training sessions at a company conference in 2012 that instructed other Pilot Flying J employees how to alter rebate information. Mosher claims that senior management attended the conference as well.
How could Jimmy Haslam not be aware of any of this activity, despite his repeated claims that he had no idea the fraud was taking place? It is incredibly hard to believe him. He oversaw a company that committed a fraud on a national level and resulted in a nearly $100 million settlement. He supervised all of the senior executives that organized and committed the fraud. Maybe Jimmy Haslam didn’t know or maybe it’s just that his brother is the governor of Tennessee.
Either way, the Browns have bigger problems than a young quarterback drinking too much or a lineman carrying a criminal amount of marijuana. Their owner may not have hit anyone, or anything for that matter, but he is a bigger criminal than Manziel or Bryant. The only difference is that instead of a jersey, Haslam wears a suit.
Sadly, that keeps Haslam off of the front page and radio waves.