Could Jimmy Haslam temporarily lose control of the Browns?

Will Haslam be forced to give up his team temporarily? (AP)
Will Haslam be forced to give up his team temporarily? (AP)

Earlier this week, the FBI in Knoxville, Tenn., raided the headquarters of Pilot Flying J. Soon after, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, the company's CEO, said the company had done nothing wrong.

Though Haslam said life would go on as usual for the Browns, the raid and the accusation that the company did not pay rebates that it supposedly owed clients, has left the rest of the NFL terrified, writes CBSSports.com’s Mike Freeman.  

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And reportedly, Haslam also is in danger of temporarily losing control of his team.

“This is worse than a dark cloud. This is a funnel cloud,” a source told ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi.

While Haslam is in Cleveland to help with predraft preparations, Grossi reports the NFL might ask him to step away from team activities while the investigation is ongoing. If he declines, the NFL could suspend him.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, however, writes that the NFL has no plans to ask Haslam to step aside.

“I maintain that the foundation of this company is built on its integrity and that any willful wrongdoing by any employee of this company at any time is intolerable,” Haslam said in a statement released earlier this week.

Here’s more information from the Knoxville News Sentinel:

In an affidavit, FBI special agent Robert H. Root said based on information obtained in the investigation, there is probable cause to believe certain Pilot employees have conspired and schemed to engage in rebate fraud for many years, targeting customers that were deemed to be too unsophisticated to notice their agreed-upon discount with Pilot was being changed.

According to the affidavit, a current sales employee identified as CHS-2 -- shorthand for “confidential human source” -- alleged that the fraud has occurred with the knowledge of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam and president Mark Hazelwood. Specifically, the person said rebate fraud-related activities have been discussed during sales meetings in Knoxville at which Hazelwood and Haslam were present.

There is precedent for the NFL to punish an owner in this way. Then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue suspended former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., during the 1999 season after he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony after he was involved in a corruption case with a former Louisiana governor. DeBartolo eventually ceded control of the team to his sister.

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