CLEVELAND - Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam will speak to trucking executives at a seminar in Indianapolis next week. Part of his address is expected to include discussion about the federal investigation into his Pilot Flying J travel company.
In recent weeks, Pilot has been battered by federal allegations that certain employees for years had conspired to engage in rebate fraud against unsophisticated trucking companies. The company subsequently announced that several employees had been placed on leave, and retained a former Justice Department attorney to conduct an investigation.
Haslam addressed a crowd here in Cleveland at a sports award banquet Tuesday. Haslam talked about the FBI probe into his company and he had a message for Cleveland.
"I apologize to the city of Cleveland, northeast Ohio and all Browns fans because the last thing we ever wanted to do as a new owner was to detract from football and Browns and just what a great football area this is," Haslam said.
And while Haslam has said he believes only a small number of trucking companies may have been cheated, he's been calling hundreds of owners and operators. Meanwhile, an internal audit team is going over accounts.
Haslam said results from an independent investigation paid for by his company is underway.
"Not only that we agreed to do it but we volunteered to do it on our own. And I think this investigation will probably take several months," explained Haslam.
Haslam also said the independent investigator will turn his findings over to the board - but it's not clear if any or all of it will be made public.
The Indianapolis event is hosted by Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, an Indianapolis-based law firm that focuses on the transportation sector and whose clients including trucking companies.
Greg Feary, president of the Scopelitis law firm, said that when the allegations became public his firm received a number of calls from clients asking them to look into the matter. While several class-action suits have already been filed against Pilot, Feary said his firm decided it didn't make sense to take that step at this point.
"Pilot's been a strong ally of the trucking industry for many years and we recognize that, too," he said. "So I think that, to our client base, that made a lot of sense. The other thing we don't want to do is if Pilot's going to go in and rectify whatever wrong there is, I don't think we need to get in the way of that or collect fees as between Pilot and our clients."
Haslam will speak to the seminar on May 16.
Feary said questions will be submitted in advance, and the executive will be able to choose which ones he will answer. The session will be moderated by former Colorado Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican who is president and CEO of American Trucking Associations.