By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Evidence uncovered in a federal lawsuit showed Cleveland Browns owner James A. Haslam 3rd's "direct involvement" in targeting an Alabama trucking firm for "large scale pricing fraud," according to a motion filed today in Mobile, Ala.
The motion filed for Wright Transportation of Mobile also charges that Haslam's recent claim that he was willing to be deposed in connection with rebate fraud charges against Pilot Travel Centers was a publicity stunt.
"Haslam continues to dodge and delay as he has for the past three years," the filing states.
The filing, which comes before a scheduled Friday hearing, is the latest development in a handful of remaining lawsuits stemming from a federal probe of charges that the Haslam family owned truck stop chain routinely cheated truckers out of millions of dollars in promised diesel fuel rebates.
Haslam's promise to agree to a deposition came with a series of conditions and the Wright brief charges that those conditions would delay any deposition until late this year or early next year.
Noting that Haslam has never agreed to a specific timetable for a deposition, the filing states Haslam now "apparently intends to run out the clock."
The motion calls on Mobile Judge Sarah Hicks Stewart to issue a second order calling for Haslam to be questioned under oath within 30 days. An earlier order for a May 11 deposition was temporarily set aside.
Responding to a joint motion filed by Haslam, Pilot and other defendants, Wright charged that during five months of discovery while the case was still in federal court "Wright uncovered Haslam's knowledge and direct involvement with (former Pilot President Mark) Hazelwood in targeting Wright and engaging in large scale pricing fraud involving thousands of transactions and massive losses."
Haslam has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the scheme to cheat on diesel fuel rebates.
Wright argues that it needs to question Haslam to pursue charges already leveled against former President Hazelwood.
"Haslam is the only person Hazelwood reported to," the filing states, noting that trucking executive is just about the only person involved in the case who has not either pleaded guilty to federal charges or been recently indicted, as Hazelwood has.