Could Haslam lose ownership of Browns?

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
9:10
AM ET

A blog reader, Michael from Phoenix, asked: With the FBI raiding Pilot Flying J's headquarters, what are the chances that Jimmy Haslam won't be the Browns owner in the near future?

That question was posed to ESPN.com legal analyst Lester Munson, who said: "I think that's in the realm of possibility."

A league spokesman declined to weigh in on whether the investigation would affect Haslam's role as team owner.

As a precedent, Munson pointed to Bruce McNall, who sold control of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings in 1994, the same year he pleaded guilty to defrauding several banks of $236 million. In terms of the NFL, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was fined by the NFL and barred from active control of the San Francisco 49ers for one year in 1999 for his role in a riverboat gambling scandal. A year later, he turned over operation of the team to his sister as a way to settle his father's estate.

Haslam's family business is in the midst of an FBI investigation that alleges members of the company's sales force preyed on smaller trucking companies by reducing the amount of rebates they were owed for buying certain amounts of fuel. One Pilot Flying J employee told investigators that Haslam, who is CEO of the company, knew about rebate fraud at the truck stop chain.

Haslam, who is in Cleveland as the Browns make preparations for next week's NFL draft, said in a written statement Thursday evening 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."

Another question is how the NFL's extensive background check on Haslam didn't reveal this issue six months ago, when he was unanimously approved by league owners. The NFL looks closely, along with independent advisers, into the finances of potential owners.

"It's a very embarrassing thing for the National Football League," Munson said. "This is not a player in trouble. This is one of 32 owners who is now in trouble. So yes, they probably should have seen this. Somebody missed it. Maybe there's an explanation for that, maybe not. But this is a kind of thing that the league wants to find out before he closes the deal to buy the team."

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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