The Cleveland Browns have been making plenty of headlines recently with the trading of star running back Trent Richardson, the uncertain future of quarterback Brandon Weeden and a team struggling to win under first-year coach Rob Chudzinski.
But Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam has stayed out of the news lately, which is good for everyone connected with the football team. Haslam's truck-stop chain -- Pilot Flying J Travel Centers -- has been the subject of an FBI probe involving truckers who alleged they were cheated out of promised fuel rebates.
More than 20 trucking companies across the country have filed lawsuits against Pilot Flying J. Seven former Pilot Flying J employees have entered guilty pleas for their roles in the alleged rebate scheme.
Haslam, CEO of the company, has not been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing. He has consistently said he had no knowledge of the alleged fraud. I believe him.
So does a truck driver who approached a friend and I as we recently dined at a local restaurant. The truck driver had no idea I was a newspaper reporter. He simply heard my friend and I talking about Haslam and the Browns, and wanted to throw in his opinion.
"Jimmy Haslam has gotten a lot of bad press, but I never had any problems with his company," said the man after he approached our table. "They always treated me fairly. I just thought I'd mention that."
The truck driver said "the right amount of money" was always in his paycheck -- money that included gasoline rebates from Pilot Flying J.
"I checked it every time," he said. "It was always correct. That's a lot of money when you travel thousands of miles."
In addition, the truck driver said he witnessed Haslam -- and his honest methods -- first hand.
"One time, I was at one of his truck stops at 5 a.m.," the man said. "I saw this gray-haired man looking around. It was Jimmy Haslam, but I didn't know who he was at first.
"They had this young guy behind the counter who didn't seem like he wanted to do his job. [Haslam] came up to me and said, 'Is there a problem?'"
"I said 'him' as I was pointing to the man behind the counter," the trucker said. "He never wants to do his job. A couple of truck drivers next to me agreed."
The truck driver said their words got immediate results.
"Soon, [Haslam] went up to the guy behind the counter and said to him, 'We're not going to need your services anymore. You can just leave now,'" the truck driver said.
"And he was gone [fired] -- just like that. [Haslam] took care of that problem in a hurry."
The truck driver said he thought Haslam was an honest man and couldn't believe he was involved in the alleged rebate scheme. I agree.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC