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Browns CEO says team not slowed by federal probe

By TOM WITHERS - AP Sports Writer
    2013-07-24 11:12

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Browns CEO Joe Banner said the ongoing federal investigation into owner Jimmy Haslam's truck-stop business has not hindered daily operations of his NFL franchise.

In an interview on the eve of training camp, Banner attempted to ease concerns of Cleveland fans about Haslam's uncertain future.

Banner said he does not envision any development that would require Haslam to sell the team.

``I don't see that scenario,'' Banner said.

Haslam, who bought the Browns last year from Randy Lerner, recently reached a settlement with some customers of his Pilot Flying J company who were cheated out of rebate money. Haslam has professed his innocence since FBI and IRS agents raided the company's headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 15. An affidavit released said Haslam had knowledge that some of his salesmen were overcharging customers.

Banner appreciates that Browns fans are worried, but said the team has not been impacted by the probe.

``I understand why that doesn't give everybody total peace of mind,'' he said. ``We're operating the team exactly as we would, whether this would have happened or not. Jimmy's here and incredibly supportive and a huge asset to us. 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.

``But I understand why until that actually happens and this thing plays itself out it's a legitimate question for people to continue asking.''

Banner believes the league is satisfied the Browns are running smoothly.

``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 admitted the investigation was ``a surprise.'' However, he remains confident and supportive of Haslam, who has apologized for any embarrassment he brought to Cleveland and its fans.

``We've certainly talked about it privately,'' Banner said. ``He's been extremely open with me and felt it was appropriate I knew what was going on and reinforce the very same messages he said publicly. We certainly discussed it, but I know him. I have a lot of confidence in him. I wouldn't say I had to be reassured.''

Banner said Haslam has not been slowed in his drive to rebuild the Browns, who have had just two winning seasons since 1999.

``I think it's a challenging situation you don't want to go through,'' Banner said. ``But he's high energy, he's as intense, he's got as many questions as he usually does about what we're doing, why we're doing it and how we could do it better. The things we've needed him to with questions or sponsors or relationships or people we're trying to recruit to come here that we wanted him to reach out to he's done and done well.

``He's either in or he's not - and he's in.''

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