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Report: Haslam's Pilot Flying J $4 billion in debt, credit rating hurt

By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Writer

Jimmy Haslam's company reportedly is $4 billion in debt. (USATSI)
Jimmy Haslam's company reportedly is $4 billion in debt. (USATSI)

As Browns owner Jimmy Haslam stands by to watch what happens to his Pilot Flying J company -- the FBI investigated its headquarters on the charges that the company had committed rebate fraud to a number of trucking companies, and a number of executives have since pleaded guilty -- he received more bad news last week.

According to the Wall Street Journal, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Pilot Flying J has about $4 billion worth of debt and its credit rating has been downgraded by the S&P, which called the financial risk “significant.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in April that “Jimmy is doing everything he's asked. He's cooperating. He wants to make sure that he is doing all of the right things in that regard and he has assured us that he is going to [do all of the right things].”

The league also said at the time that it has no plans to remove Haslam from his Browns ownership post. But Haslam hasn't made much good news since he paid about $1 billion, including $700 million up front, to buy the Browns last October.

More from the Plain Dealer:

But of even more concern about Haslam's future with the Browns was contained in a story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal:

"The company's debt nearly doubled to $4 billion in a two-year period through last year, as its owners paid themselves two payments totaling $1.7 billion from it, according to Moody's.

"Last year, Pilot issued $1.1 billion of the debt -- largely to fund the second one, a dividend for $700 million, according to S&P. That was partly so Jimmy could buy the Cleveland Browns."

So Pilot Flying J was $4 billion in debt before the FBI raid?

Apparently so.

We don't know yet if Haslam knew about this alleged fraud -- he said he didn't, but the continued tally of those executives who are pleading guilty make his arguments a little tougher to take -- but you can be sure that if he is implicated, his tenure as an NFL owner will be very short indeed.

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