BEREA -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is satisfied with the way Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is handling the FBI investigation of Pilot Flying J, and the league has no plans to intervene in the operation of the Browns.
“He doesn’t need any pushing,” Goodell said this afternoon as the Browns began practice. “This company means a lot to him and he’s obviously not happy about what has happened and he’s determined to fix it.
“Jimmy is more disappointed than anybody but I don’t think it’s a matter for us at this moment.”
Goodell called Haslam “a man of great integrity” and said the league is proud to have him as an owner. Goodell said he asked Haslam if he knew about the fraud scheme at Pilot Flying J, the nation’s largest travel center operator.
“Yes, absolutely,” Goodell said. “And he’s been very clear that he’s had no knowledge of that and he’s been clear publicly and clear with you all.”
Goodell was at Browns camp for a youth clinic and answered questions for about seven minutes. Almost all of them were about Haslam, who’s CEO of Pilot Flying J. Seven employees have pleaded guilty to charges related to a fraud scheme to cheat trucking companies of their proper fuel rebates.
Goodell said the league hasn’t been in contact with the FBI. And he didn’t answer questions about what the league would do if Haslam were indicted.
“We’re not going to play the hypothetical game,” Goodell said. “Right now he’s addressing the issues. We’re confident he’s going to deal with it properly.”
Goodell denied the legal troubles are a distraction to the Browns but said they are troubling to the league.
“You never want to see this kind of thing happen, particularly to a partner in the league,” he said. “So obviously his partners care a great deal about him and as a partner they want to see him getting off to a good start. This is not what anybody intended, not anybody anticipated, but he’s a man that I think everyone truly respects in the NFL.”
Haslam took majority ownership of the team in October when he was approved by league owners. The FBI and IRS raided the headquarters of Pilot Fying J in April.
Haslam has maintained his innocence, but the company has agreed to reimburse trucking companies that were cheated. Haslam could face indictment, but said last week he was “very optimistic” about the outcome of the investigation.
“I have every reason to believe him,” Goodell said. “We have not been given anything that would be inconsistent with that.”
Goodell defended the NFL’s vetting progress.
“This was a surprise to him and to his senior-level management,” Goodell said. “From that standpoint I don’t think he was aware of it and I don’t know any way we could have been aware of it. It was not disclosed to us.”