KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was being deposed Tuesday in a civil lawsuit against the Pilot Flying J truck-stop chain owned by the family of Haslam and his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
According to a court notice filed in Franklin County, Ohio, the deposition that was originally to be videotaped at a Knoxville law office was moved to the conference room at the Pilot Aviation hangar at the airport.
The lawsuit was filed by companies that declined to participate in an $85 million settlement between Pilot and 5,500 trucking companies in connection with a scheme to cheat customers out of promised discounts and rebates. The company also paid a $92 million federal penalty in an agreement with prosecutors in which the company accepted responsibility for the criminal actions of its employees.
Jimmy Haslam has denied any wrongdoing or previous knowledge about the scheme and had sought to block the deposition in the case.
“Mr. Haslam's deposition is not warranted by the facts in these cases and plaintiffs’ pursuit of his deposition is nothing more than harassment,” attorney Steve Brody said in a statement.
“Mr. Haslam is nevertheless eager to put this gamesmanship behind him and therefore voluntarily agreed to sit for deposition by the remaining civil plaintiffs,” Brody said.
The depositions were not open to the public, according a Haslam spokesman.
Ten former Pilot employees have pleaded guilty in the scheme, and the company's former president and several others face trial next year in federal court.
The scheme became public after federal agents raided the company's headquarters in April 2013. A 120-page FBI affidavit unsealed after the search contained transcripts of secretly recorded conversations among the sales team deriding some trucing clients as unsophisticated, lazy and undeserving of rebates.
Pilot Flying J is the nation's largest diesel retailer with annual revenues of about $30 billion.
Bill Haslam has said he has not been involved with operating Pilot Flying J since he left the company to run for Knoxville mayor in 2003. But his family continues to own a majority share in the privately held company, and the governor has kept his personal share outside of a blind trust established for his other investments.
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