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Subway suspends spokesman Jared Fogle, who's been crucial to the brand

Jared who?

Subway is shelving its relationship with longtime spokesman Jared Fogle, the restaurant chain announced Tuesday afternoon, hours after reports surfaced that federal authorities had raided Fogle’s suburban Indianapolis home.

"Subway and Jared Fogle have mutually agreed to suspend their relationship due to the current investigation," the company said in a statement. "Jared continues to cooperate with authorities and he expects no actions to be forthcoming."

No charges have been filed against Fogle, and federal authorities would not confirm the investigation, but a former executive with Fogle's Jared Foundation was charged in May with making and possessing child pornography.

Earlier Tuesday, Subway announced that it was "shocked by the news" about Fogle, and it set about removing the spokesman’s presence from its website, starting with pages detailing Fogle's story and history with the company. It was at least another hour before Subway scrubbed a game called "Jared's Pants Dance" from its kids site. 

Subway is probably "hedging its bets" and following good crisis management, said Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

The chain will have to drop Fogle if he's charged, but in the meantime it should stay quiet and avoid promoting any rumors, Kalb said.

"If something happens to his reputation, that is going to spill over to the brand," Kalb said. "That is why many brands use mascots…. People sometimes get into trouble, and if they do, they take the brand with them."

Kalb cited several examples of brands dropping spokespeople who are experiencing bad press: Temple University severed ties with Bill Cosby last year amid allegations of sexual assault; Aflac dumped Gilbert Gottfried as the voice of its duck after the comedian joked about victims of Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake; and the Florida Citrus Commission dropped beauty queen Anita Bryant in the 1970s after she made anti-gay comments that sparked national backlash.

Some brands dropped athletes such as Kobe Bryant amid a rape case and Tiger Woods after his sex scandal, though Kalb said that athletic brands tend to hang on to athletes unless they cheated in the sport -- such as the case with Lance Armstrong.

"The problem is that the people who are on these huge pedestals – when they have a fall, they come crashing down," Kalb said. 

Fogle, 37, has appeared in the sandwich chain's ads for more than 15 years, touting the "Subway diet," which he claimed helped him lose 245 pounds. Known to many as "the Subway guy," Fogle helped the restaurant become a central part of a burgeoning healthy eating movement, at one point joining First Lady Michelle Obama at an event as part of her campaign to combat childhood obesity.

He rose to fame after Men's Health magazine reported on his weight loss, which began when he was an obese junior at Indiana University. He became a relatable model for those seeking healthier lifestyles — he exercises, but doesn't love it, and still splurges "plenty of times," he told The Times in 2012.

Fogle has been crucial to Subway's marketing. Sales fell 10% after ads featuring him briefly stopped airing in 2005, according to AdAge. Subway also stuck with Fogle after he gained 40 pounds in 2010, encouraging him to run and finish the New York City Marathon that year, AdAge said. Subway also stayed with Michael Phelps after a photograph emerged of the swimmer hitting a bong at a party, which resulted in a three-month competition ban and cost Phelps a reported $500,000 deal with Kellogg’s.

The "before and after" images of Fogle at his highest weight and after his Subway diet are a "very positive association" for the brand, Kalb said.

According to local station WTHR-TV, Fogle's Zionsville, Ind., home was raided by federal and state agents about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. The station reported that he was detained outside his home but was not under arrest. His wife and children left the home shortly after the raid began, the station reported, and Fogle left with an attorney Tuesday afternoon.

Tim Horty, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of Indiana, would not say whether his office was investigating. The FBI and Indiana State Police confirmed they were assisting with an investigation in Zionsville, but declined to confirm that he was involved and referred questions to Horty's office.

An attorney for Fogle did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The reported raid at Fogle's house comes two months after the former executive director of the Jared Foundation, which Fogle founded, was arrested on child pornography charges.

Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint on May 4 against Russell Taylor, 43, charging him with seven counts of production and one count of possession of child pornography.

A joint task force of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the Indiana State Police and the FBI raided Taylor's home April 29 after getting a tip that he was in possession of illegal pornographic images. Investigators said they found more than 400 videos of child pornography in Taylor's home office.

Investigators said Taylor "sexually exploited four children" to produce pornography in the bathrooms and bedrooms of his home between 2012 and 2015, according to the criminal complaint. The complaint indicates the children, both male and female, did not know they were being filmed.

Shortly after Taylor's arrest, Fogle released a statement saying he was "shocked" about the allegations and was severing all ties with Taylor, the Associated Press reported.

The investigation into Taylor started in September after a woman he was texting sexual messages to reported him to police, according to the complaint. The woman told police he offered to show her child pornography.

Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:53 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout.

The first version of this story was published at 12:47 p.m.

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