Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Haslam Deposition Sought In Pilot Rebate Case
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
An Alabama trucking firm is seeking court approval to force Cleveland Browns owner James A. Haslam to undergo a sworn deposition to obtain "critical" information in a suit charging rebate fraud.
In a motion filed in circuit court in Mobile, Ala., Wright has charged Haslam has "played games in an effort to avoid" being deposed.
Wright is one of four trucking firms still pursuing rebate fraud claims against Pilot Flying J, the family owned company that Haslam heads.
Citing an affidavit filed by a federal agent investigating Pilot's handling of promised rebates, the motion filed by Alabama attorney Stephen M. Tunstall charges that Haslam had knowledge of and participated in a scheme to cheat truckers out of millions of dollars in promised rebates.
The filing disputes claims by Haslam's lawyers that the Alabama court lacks the authority to force Haslam's testimony.
While avoiding court testimony, Haslam has repeatedly asserted publicly that he had no knowledge of the scheme to cheat truckers out of rebates.
In a recent filing in the Alabama litigation, Pilot's lawyers have asserted that "Mr. Haslam is not subject to jurisdiction in Alabama" on any of the allegations raised in the Wright suit.
Citing actions in a parallel federal court suit that was later dismissed, Wright charged that Haslam was using the same arguments that were rejected in the federal suit.
"Haslam's deposition is critical," the filing states.
In a related ruling in the same suit Judge Sarah Hicks Stewart has cleared the way for Wright to begin gathering evidence against former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood.
Hazelwood was one of several top Pilot officials to be indicted by a federal grand jury in Knoxville earlier this year.
Charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and witness tampering, Hazelwood and the seven other recently charged defendants have entered not guilty pleas.
Ten other former Pilot employees, however, have entered guilty pleas to mail and wire fraud charges and await sentencing.
Three other trucking firms have filed suit in state court in Ohio. Lawyers for the truckers recently filed notice that they intend to call Haslam as a witness in the upcoming trial.
Pilot already has paid some $175 million to settle suits filed by truckers and the federal government stemming from the rebate fraud allegations.