WESTLAKE, Ohio -- Embarrassed by a federal investigation of fraud inside his truck-stop company, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam apologized to Cleveland Browns fans and promised to bring the city a winning team.
Haslam, who bought the Browns last year from Randy Lerner, was the featured speaker Monday night at the Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation's 25th annual scholar-athlete banquet. It was one of Haslam's first public appearances in Ohio since the FBI raided the headquarters of Pilot Flying J, his family's business, last month as part of an investigation into an alleged fraud scheme.
From a dais that included Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, Haslam spoke to a packed banquet room and then held a brief news conference afterward.
"I apologize to the city of Cleveland, Northeastern Ohio and all Browns fans because the last thing we ever wanted to do as a new owner was detract from football and the Browns and just what a great football area this is, and so I apologize for that," he said.
"We feel badly about it and we're very comfortable we'll work through this situation."
Haslam did not answer any questions during his 10-minute meeting with local media members. He was pressed about his knowledge of the fraud, but politely declined to answer.
Federal agents raided Pilot's headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 15. The FBI alleges members of Pilot's sales team deliberately withheld rebates to boost profits.
Haslam reviewed the steps he has taking while the probe continues and reiterated he's doing all he can to gain back the trust of Pilot Flying J's customers.
During his remarks to open the banquet's program, Haslam praised the Browns' new coaching staff headed by Rob Chudzinki and raved about the team's recent picks in the NFL draft.
Haslam told the audience he was excited about the upcoming season, and he vowed to turn the Browns into contenders.
"I want to win because we're competitive and anybody that's competitive wants to win, but having been in this area, I want to win more for you all, the fans of Cleveland, because I've never seen fan support like this in the Cleveland area," he said. "It's incredible. I pledge to you we're going to do everything we possibly can to bring a winner to Cleveland and Northeast Ohio because this area deserves it."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press