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Browns doing business as usual amid federal probe
BEREA, OHIO (AP) - The legal entanglement of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is not tying up his NFL franchise, the team’s top executive says.
On the eve of training camp, CEO Joe Banner said the federal investigation into fraud at Haslam’s Pilot Flying J truck-stop business has not hindered the club’s daily operations or impacted the owner’s vision for turning the Browns into perennial winners.
“I don’t see that scenario, but you know,” Banner said before trailing off.
In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, Banner spoke openly about Haslam’s situation, which hangs over a team that has had just two winning seasons since its rebirth in 1999. Banner tried to ease the concerns of some nervous Cleveland fans, who fear the ongoing federal probe will derail the team’s plans and lead to further turmoil.
Haslam, who bought the Browns last year from Randy Lerner, recently reached a settlement with some Pilot Flying J customers who were cheated out of rebate money. Haslam has professed his innocence since FBI and IRS agents raided the company’s Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters on April 15.
“It really hasn’t affected us at all,” he said. “We have a team we put together here of really, really good people, whether we’re talking the coaching staff, the business side, even our foundation. We’re really excited about the team we put together.
“Jimmy really had a vision. He spoke about what his priorities were around creating a phenomenal fan experience and being focused on winning fans again. He hired me. We put together a team on a day-to-day basis to accomplish that. We’re free and clear to do all that. Nothing has happened to impact our ability to do that or frankly given us any reason not to be successful.”
Banner said Haslam has remained involved in every aspect of the Browns since the investigation began and that he’s determined to see every aspect of his plan through.
“Jimmy’s here and incredibly supportive and a huge asset to us,” said Banner, who spent 14 seasons in Philadelphia’s front office before coming to Cleveland. “He’s made it clear and I’ve tried to make it clear without any ambiguity at all that he’s not going to sell the team.”
Haslam is expected to be on the field Thursday when coach Rob Chudzinski holds his first practice.
“I think the league feels really good about the way things are going, but they have a wait-and-see attitude as well,” Banner said. “I think they feel very good about Jimmy, he’s been very open and transparent with them. I think they feel confident in the way they see him leading and the team we’ve put together to operate things.”
Banner acknowledged the investigation was “a surprise” but that it didn’t sway his opinion about Haslam or give him any second thoughts about joining Cleveland. Banner remains confident and supportive of Haslam.
By Tammy Bruce
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