Addressing the Cleveland media for the first time since his Pilot Flying J truck stop company was raided by the FBI last month, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam apologized profusely Tuesday for the scandal that's overshadowed the team. "I apologize to the city of Cleveland, Northeastern Ohio and all Browns fans because the last thing we ever wanted to do as a new owner was detract from football and the Browns and just what a great football area this is," Haslam said. "So I apologize for that. We feel badly about it and we're very comfortable we'll work through this situation." Haslam made his remarks in a 10-minute media session just after giving the opening address at the Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame's scholar-athlete banquet at LaCentre in Westlake. He said he would've talked during last month's draft, but didn't "want to distract from the draft because the draft is all about football and the future Browns." As in previous news conferences held at his Knoxville headquarters, Haslam declined to take questions, including one thrown out by a TV reporter about a report that FBI believes he knew about the alleged rebate fraud of customers. Instead, Haslam talked for about six minutes about the investigation and a five-pronged plan to rectify the issues, and another four about the Browns. Haslam previously announced steps to address the spreading scandal. Pilot Flying J will retain an outside investigator with Justice Department experience to examine the FBI's claims and establish a chief compliance officer position. Haslam also has put several sales employees on administrative leave. He did not identify them. Investigators have not disclosed how high into Pilot Flying J's management suite they think knowledge of the purported fraud went. Haslam bought a majority stake in the Browns for $1 billion and the NFL approved the sale in October. Haslam owns a 70 percent stake in the team and will purchase the remaining 30 percent from Randy Lerner in four years. Haslam began the Browns portion of Tuesday's comments by rejecting the notion of discord in the team's front office during the draft. He said he sat in Berea all three days with CEO Joe Banner, General Manager Mike Lombardi, assistant GM Ray Farmer and coach Rob Chudzinski and had a chance to watch them interact. "I know there have been some comments that maybe it's not great teamwork, but I've never seen four people work together in a positive manner better than those guys did," he said. "It was great to see it. And it wasn't all agreement. There was a lot of disagreement, a lot of conversation going back and forth. I'm very excited about the draft we had."
Jimmy Haslam to Cleveland and Browns fans: 'I apologize' for Pilot Flying J distraction
Cleveland Plain Dealer | May 8