Pilot Flying J raid may be most Only in Cleveland story ever
From bankrupt owners, to bad trades, ill-timed injuries, prevent defenses in the playoffs, players burning their uniforms in trash cans, fat guys eating beer cans, players taking their “talents to South Beach,” and more disappointment than any one fan base should ever witness, we though we had seen it all.
Then the news broke on Monday that not only the FBI but also the IRS were on a raid of Jimmy Haslam’s Pilot Flying J’s headquarters in Knoxville and, well, we may soon be able to say we’ve seen it all.
While we can think of other sports owners that have been in trouble – George Steinbrenner and Dan Snyder quickly some to mind – we can’t remember the last time a story like this developed around the owner of a professional sports team.
And certainly not the owner of the Cleveland Browns – the No. 1 team in the city.
No one outside of the FBI and the IRS really knows what is going on in Knoxville, but Haslam issued an explanation on Tuesday, saying the raid was part of a criminal investigation over claims that the company failed to pay rebates to some of its trucking customers.
“It does not involve, as best we can tell — and I’m pretty sure we’re right — any type of tax issue,” Haslam said in a press conference on Tuesday. “So there’s no evasion of tax or federal taxes, which candidly is what your suppliers, particularly fuel suppliers, worry about.”
Well, that’s good to know. Sort of.
Not even Haslam’s brother, Bill knows what is going on – and he’s the governor of Tennessee.
“There’s a lot of rumors and suspicions, but the truth is nobody knows,” Gov. Haslam said. “The company has said they will cooperate fully and I appreciate that. I talked with my brother and he said he doesn’t think they did anything wrong, and I have full faith and confidence in him. Meantime, I’m going to go back to being governor.”
Speaking of getting back to work, Tuesday was the first day of minicamp for the Browns, the first time that coach Rob Chudzinski was able to get the players together.
In other words, business as usual in Berea (take that how you will), and that is how Haslam hopes it stays as the team prepares for next week’s NFL Draft.
“I apologize, because the last thing we ever want to do is put any kind of blemish on the city of Cleveland – which we’ve grown to love – or the Browns,” he said. “So I personally feel bad about that, even though I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong.”
We certainly are not legal experts, but we can’t help but shake the feeling that we’ve only heard the beginning of this. If this is really all just about some rebates that were not paid properly, it seems like a lot of overkill to have the FBI involved. We like to think that there are more important things going on in this country than rebates that the FBI should be concerning itself with.
Obviously we are hoping that is really just a misunderstanding and things will work out shortly, that the FBI was just on hand to offer support to the IRS agents.
But if that is not the case, and this turns out to be something much worse, then this would become the most Only in Cleveland story anyone has ever seen.
And for this town, that is saying a lot.
(Photo by the Knoxville News Sentinel)