Pilot Flying J, the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops chaired by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, reached a deal with federal prosecutors to avoid criminal charges against the company, writes Josh Flory of KnoxNews.com. In exchange, Pilot must pay a $92MM penalty over the course of the next two years and must also cooperate with the ongoing criminal investigation into diesel fuel rebate fraud.
However, while the company itself might have avoided criminal sanctions, Haslam and other company employees might not be out of the woods just yet. As Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal points out, the deal does not exempt any individual from prosecution. Indeed, after the government’s investigation of Pilot’s alleged diesel rebate fraud became public last year, 10 former company employees pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the investigation (Pilot also reached civil settlements totaling $85MM with trucking customers who claimed to have been victimized by the company’s fraudulent activities). As far as Haslam and his associates are concerned, Ridenour writes, “There is still time for the government to find proof that Haslam had knowledge of the fraud. There is still time for the 10 former Pilot employees who have pleaded guilty to turn against him. There is still time for more people to be charged.”
On the other hand, as Flory observes, former assistant United States Attorney Tom Withers has stated that he would be surprised if the company would have resolved the charges against it without some indication from the government that Haslam himself would not be criminally charged. So, despite the government’s assertion that the agreement “demonstrate[s] quite clearly that no corporation, no matter how big, influential, or wealthy, is above the law,” there might have been another, unpublicized portion of the deal that made it more palatable for Haslam.
How does all of this affect the Browns? It probably won’t. Ridenour writes that Pilot has opened several locations recently and business is apparently doing quite well. And, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets, the NFL has stated that “there are no allegations that apply to [the league’s] personal conduct policy.” Therefore, the Browns might yet achieve some front office stability, something they hoped they were getting from Haslam all along.