Charges haven’t been filed following a raid on his company’s headquarters, but Pilot Flying J chief Jimmy Haslam seems to have already embarked on a tour to rehabilitate his image and that of his family's company.
On Tuesday Haslam addressed the Northeast Ohio Football Foundation, one of his first public appearances since the FBI and IRS raided the company’s Tennessee headquarters last month. Haslam is owner of the Cleveland Browns football 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, and so I apologize for that," Haslam said during the event. "We feel badly about it and we're very comfortable we'll work through this situation."
Just after the raid, authorities released a more than 100-page affidavit used to secure search warrants for the raid, alleging members of Pilot's sales team deliberately withheld rebates to boost profits.
About the same time Haslam said the allegations involved a “very insignificant number of customers and the application of rebates and announced what the company was doing to address concerns. Tuesday he offered more details, saying, “I've probably talked to literally 250 to 300 trucking companies the last three weeks.” It’s estimated the company has about 3,300 trucking company customers.
Later Tuesday, Haslam held about a 10-minute meeting with local reporters, but did not take questions. Much of the rest of the evening he talked about football.
According to published reports, the NFL has no plans to ask Haslam to relinquish control of the team during the investigation. Haslam took control of the franchise last August for more than $1 billion.
Speaking in Indianapolis
Next week Haslam is set to address a transportation seminar in Indianapolis for 45 minutes. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the law firm of Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary contacted Haslam about speaking at the event they are hosting.
Haslam reportedly has confirmed he would attend and address allegations. More than 375 executives are registered for the transportation conference. He is not expected to take questions from the media. Instead Scopelitis is collecting questions from trucking company clients, which it will assemble and forward to Haslam beforehand. He is expected to spend about 20 or 25 minutes on a speech and the remainder of the time responding to submitted questions.
In the wake of the raids, about half a dozen class-action lawsuits have been filed against Pilot Flying J that also name Haslam and other company executives as defendants.
The company has also hired a special independent counsel to internally look into the matter and report his findings to the head of a special committee that will receive and review the report. However, the naming of the committee head, Brad Martin, retired chief of the retailer Saks, has raised some eyebrows because Tennessee governor and brother to Jimmy Haslam, Bill Haslam, once worked for Martin at Saks.