Analysis: "Jimmy Haslam won't face charges"

10:34 AM, Apr 24, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- While federal investigators follow a paper trail of alleged fraud at Pilot Flying J, Browns fans are following a draft.

And everyone is wondering what Jimmy Haslam's role was.

"It puts him in a bad light and I think it puts the NFL in a bad light," said Jim Wyatt, with The Tennessean

Will corrupt business practices ruin the Browns as well? One Clevelander, lawyer Richard Lillie, says no.

"I don't think it should be of concern for Browns fans because I don't believe that Mr. Haslam would have been involved with a scheme to defraud. I really think that this has something to do with some rogue sales people," said Lillie, who is not involved with the case, but is a prominent and respected federal criminal defense attorney.

Lillie was the first to represent former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora when he was first arrested in the Cuyahoga County corruption probe. 

Lillie says the documents show sales officials in a potential scheme to cheat trucking companies out of promised rebates. But as of now, there's no public evidence that Haslam is responsible.

Lillie's expert eye sees E3 walking away from this okay. Business fallout? Yes, some of that already being seen in the form of civil lawsuits filed and a tarnished company reputation.

But Haslam facing criminal charges? No.

"Not unless he knew about the actual scheme to defraud," said Lillie. "The fact that he was at some sort of meeting where they may have been talking about this rebate program, seems of no consequence to me at all."

The sales minds behind the scheme were possibly trying to line their pockets and avoid taxes on the extra money, says Lillie.

Those men are likely to face federal mail and wire fraud charges. If convicted, federal sentencing guidelines are based on the dollar amount.

"It could be huge if it's a multimillion-dollar fraud, these sentencing guidelines could be extremely high," he said.


Lillie said, for a rough example, a million-dollar fraud scheme would result in a base sentencing guideline of four to five years in prison.

Base guidelines are impacted by enhancements for the way in which a crime is carried out. Involved planning of the scheme, for example, could result in a longer sentence.

While that may put some Pilot Flying J employees behind bars, Lillie says Haslam won't be one of them.

"I think it's highly unlikely that he had any involvement what so ever," said Lillie. "All of us in Cleveland are concerned, because we have an owner now who is a hands on owner and looks like he's going to be able to put together, at some point, a championship team, so obviously we're all pulling for him."

The Pilot Flying J investigation is reminding football fans of Youngstown native Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., the flamboyant and successful owner of the San Francisco 49ers.

He won five Super Bowls in 22 years, but DeBartolo's criminal record pushed him out of football. He was suspended, later forced to cede control of the team for a felony conviction in a Louisiana corruption scandal.

Haslam has further connected himself to that case by hiring DeBartolo's attorney, Aubrey Harwell, Jr. of Nashville.

The NFL has taken a wait-and-see position, passing approval on Haslam to enter the elite owners circle just months ago.

"The league is in a position now where they've kind of done their work and done their research on Jimmy Haslam, and now they are as interested as anybody to see if somebody else is able to uncover something that they did not find," said Wyatt.

Lillie says it could easily be a year's time before charges are filed.

Typically a search warrant comes toward the end of a federal investigation, after FBI and IRS investigators have created a document narrative, showing the timeline of what went wrong.

There are exceptions though.

The Cuyahoga County corruption scandal is one case where search warrants were executed at the start of the investigation.


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