Could Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam lose control of his franchise?

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III during a press conference at the team's training facility. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III during a press conference at the team’s training facility. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

The Cleveland Browns simply cannot catch a break. Winning games has been tougher than pulling teeth since the second edition of the franchise came into existence. Now, new team owner Jimmy Haslam, who has made a real commitment to doling out the type of cash it takes to win games, could be forced to step away from the team.

According to CBS Sports, Haslam is the CEO of Pilot Flying J., a Knoxville, TN based company that was raided by the FBI earlier this week.

The raid was part of an accusation that the company did not pay rebates that it allegedly owes to its clients. Of course, Haslem denied any wrongdoing:

“I maintain 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,” Haslam said in a statement released earlier this week.

These owed rebates are not exactly what your mother is using to take two dollars off her bagels over at Publix (or Costco or Jewel or Albertson’s, it’s whatever). The accusations are incredibly serious, and could force NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend Haslam from any and all team-related activities. Obviously, with so little time leading up to the NFL Draft, such a situation would be less than ideal.

“This is worse than a dark cloud. This is a funnel cloud,” a source told ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi.

Here’s more information from the Knoxville News Sentinel:

In an affidavit, FBI special agent Robert H. Root said based on information obtained in the investigation, there is probable cause to believe certain Pilot employees have conspired and schemed to engage in rebate fraud for many years, targeting customers that were deemed to be too unsophisticated to notice their agreed-upon discount with Pilot was being changed.

According to the affidavit, a current sales employee identified as CHS-2 — shorthand for “confidential human source” — alleged that the fraud has occurred with the knowledge of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam and president Mark Hazelwood. Specifically, the person said rebate fraud-related activities have been discussed during sales meetings in Knoxville at which Hazelwood and Haslam were present.

Whether or not Haslam will have to relinquish control of the team remains to be seen. In 1999, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was forced to suspend San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. DeBartolo was involved in a corruption case with a former Louisviana governor, failing to report a felony.

No matter the outcome, this is just another setback for a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity for the better part of their entire existence.