Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has agreed to settle class action lawsuits filed against his Pilot Flying J Travel Centers for allegedly cheating companies out of rebates for large purchases of diesel fuel.
The settlement does not get federal investigators off the back of Pilot Flying J. The FBI and IRS raided Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 15 -- one day before Browns first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski conducted his first minicamp -- and is continuing to investigate fraud claims.
At last count, 21 trucking companies filed suit against Pilot Flying J, and according to court documents more than 4,000 customers of Haslam’s truck stop company are covered by the settlement agreement.
The agreement states specifically: “Nothing in the agreement shall be construed, deemed or offered as an admission by any of the parties or any member of the settlement class for any purpose in any judicial or administrative action.”
The documents also state the agreement contains “no admission of liability” but that it is “solely for the purpose of compromising and settling disputed claims.”
Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, a company started by his father as a single gas station in 1958 and which has since grown into the largest purveyor of diesel fuel in the United States with 550 locations, has claimed from the start he knew nothing about the scheme to defraud trucking companies. He has not been charged with a crime.
Five Pilot Flying J employees have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with federal officials.
Haslam began the process of purchasing the Browns from Randy Lerner on the day training camp opened last summer. The news shocked former coach Pat Shurmur and was the beginning of the end for him in Cleveland, along with Mike Holmgren as team president and Tom Heckert as general manager.
Haslam has stated repeatedly he is not selling the Browns. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters before the draft he is “concerned” about the FBI investigation but the league is sticking by Haslam.
The class action settlement comes a little more than a week before the Browns open training camp. The first full-squad practice is scheduled for 4 p.m. July 25 at the team’s training facility in Berea.
©2013 The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio)
Visit The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) at www.news-herald.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services