October 23, 2014

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FBI locks down Browns owner’s family business

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents Monday locked down the headquarters of Pilot Flying J, the truck stop business owned by the family of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his brother, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

Haslam

FBI spokesman Marshall Stone told The Associated Press that the move was part of an ongoing investigation, but he would not provide additional details. FBI and IRS agents were expected to remain in the building into the evening, he said.

The FBI was keeping all traffic away from the company property, and Knoxville police patrol cars and officers could be seen outside the headquarters.

“Any details that would be released to the public would not be available for some time,” Stone said.

The company doesn’t know why FBI officials closed the headquarters but is cooperating with authorities, spokeswoman Lauren Christ said in a statement. Pilot Flying J retail operations remain open, she said.

Jimmy Haslam stepped down as company CEO after buying the Browns from previous owner Randy Lerner in a $1 billion deal in August. He was previously a minority owner of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers but sold that.

Pilot then brought in John Compton, who had been with PepsiCo Inc. for 30 years and its president for less than a year, to replace Haslam as CEO.

In February, Pilot announced Jimmy Haslam was returning as Pilot CEO and Compton would become a consultant.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league was aware of the investigation but had no other information or comment.

Bill Haslam has no position with the company but still has an unspecified holding in it, according to his limited financial disclosures.

David Smith, a spokesman for the governor, said Haslam was “aware of the situation in Knoxville today” but declined to comment further. He referred further questions to Pilot.

During the 2010 governor’s race, Bill Haslam refused to divulge how much money he earned from Pilot, the family-founded chain with annual revenues of $20 billion.

He argued that releasing his Pilot earnings would reveal personal information about the income of family members not running for office, and proprietary information about the privately held company.

Since being elected governor, Haslam has also kept his Pilot holdings outside of a blind trust he has created for other investments.

The Haslam brothers are supporters of the University of Tennessee, where their father, Jim Haslam, played tackle on the 1951 national championship football team under Gen. Robert R. Neyland, who built the Volunteers into a football powerhouse.

Bill Haslam was president of the company until he was elected mayor of Knoxville in 2003.