Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his company, Pilot Flying J, took another step toward putting a federal criminal fraud investigation behind them.
The practical result of a criminal enforcement agreement between Pilot Flying J and the U.S. Attorney’s Office released Monday is that the company will pay a $92 million fine, continue to cooperate with the investigation, and make amends for cheating customers in the past.
The fallout may well indicate that Haslam will not be prosecuted, though that is not guaranteed.
When a company accepts responsibility in some investigations, it happens in lieu of prosecuting its leaders. Haslam has insisted all along he was unaware of the scheme, and he was embarrassed and sickened when he learned about it.
The U.S. Attorney’s statement says the agreement does not preclude any individual from being prosecuted in the future. It's unclear whether that means there are further targets or if the government is reserving its right to prosecute should the company not meet its obligations.
The agreement, signed Friday, was reached to resolve "the company's criminal liability for its employees' fraudulent conduct.”
The federal investigation found that Pilot Flying J had cheated customers out of more than $56 million in a rebate fraud scheme. The agreement states that Pilot Flying J has repaid or will repay all money. Ten employees -- some of them high-level -- cooperated and were convicted. Other top-level employees left Pilot Flying J.
Haslam released a statement saying he will be happy to put the entire episode behind him.
The investigation cost a lot of money (including untold amounts of attorney fees) and caused considerable angst in Cleveland and the NFL.
But it did not cost Haslam his company, and may not cost him an indictment.
Forbes lists Haslam’s net worth at $1.6 billion.