Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam admits ongoing criminal probe has been 'a distraction'

Haslam confident of 'successful outcome'

CLEVELAND - Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam admitted in a news conference Monday that an ongoing criminal probe into his Knoxville company "has been a distraction".

Haslam's Pilot Flying J Travel Centers have been under a federal investigation into alleged fuel rebate fraud since April 15, 2013 when a team of FBI agents raided the company's Knoxville headquarters.

In a news conference Monday, Haslam was asked about the impact of the federal probe on his involvement with the Cleveland Browns.

"Has it been a distraction for me in terms of having time to spend here over the lasts six month?" said Haslam.

"Yes".

"Are we starting to move out of that phase? Yes."

Haslam said his company has paid back trucking companies with interest, dealt with employees who "have made some very poor decisions" and said he is "working with the government"  toward a "successful, long term outcome".

Haslam insisted that he believe, despite the ongoing criminal probe, that he can attract the "right person" to come to Cleveland for the head coaching job."

"I don't know how many times I can say  that we expect the Browns to be a long term asset of our family," said Haslam.

Seven Pilot Flying J employees have already pleaded guilty to criminal charges associated with the alleged fraud and sources close to the investigation say others will be indicted in early 2014.

Haslam has not been charged with a crime.

Even so, last month Haslam agreed to pay nearly $85 million to more than 5,000 trucking companies who were owed fuel rebates as part of a huge class-action settlement.

The NFL has said in the past that it stands by Haslam and called him "a man of integrity."

When asked if he is confident that the federal probe can be resolved without being indicted, Haslam said he "accepts responsibility" but insists "we have not done anything wrong and is confident of a successful outcome."

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