The fallout from a federal investigation of Pilot Flying J travel centers, the family business of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, continued to get worst after the Wall Street Journal reported that the company is about $4 billion in debt.
Cleveland Plain Dealer sports columnist Terry Pluto noted the Wall Street Journal report in a story on Sunday, as some are now wondering if Haslam's ownership of the NFL teams may now be in jeopardy.
The Wall Street Journal also noted that Standard and Poor's Corp. called the financial risk from Jimmy Haslam's company's $4 billion debt "significant," the Plain Dealer reported
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"Standard and Poor's Corp. is a financial services company that provides research on stocks and bonds," Pluto wrote. "Yes, nearly every NFL owner turns a profit every year, and that may be true of the Browns. But all that debt? It is indeed 'significant,' as reported by Standard and Poor's."
Pluto said it appears the problems with the investigation of Pilot Flying J have not affected the Browns – yet.
"He does have veteran NFL executive Joe Banner to run the team’s daily operations, and that helps," Pluto wrote. "Banner has hired a strong coaching staff, especially the experienced coordinators to help rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski. In the short term, Haslam’s problems have no impact on the football team. But long term, who knows?"
In June, two regional sales managers and a sales representative reached plea agreements and pleaded guilty to mail fraud, while two other employees pleaded guilty in separate hearings, according to Cleveland's WEWS-TV
Those employees have agreed to cooperate in FBI investigation into conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud, former federal prosecutor Subodh Chandra told WEWS-TV.
"From a business standpoint, this is not good news for Mr. Haslam or his organization," Chandra told the television station. "What remains to be seen is this is just how high up did the alleged corruption go?"
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Pilot Flying J has been trying to save face at each stage of the investigation, saying it has taken steps to correct a gas rebate problem, which is at the heart of the investigation, the television station said.
“We are disappointed in the actions of these employees towards our customers," said a Pilot Flying J statement after the June plea deals. "We assure our customers that our five-step plan to correct any wrongdoing and to make certain these actions do not happen again is ongoing."
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