Friday, September 23, 2016
Ohio Judge Declines to Order Haslam Testimony
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Concluding his intervention was not necessary, an Ohio judge has declined to issue an order to force Cleveland Browns owner James A. Haslam to testify under oath.
In a three-page decision issued this week, Franklin County Judge David C. Young cited Ohio and Tennessee statutes and court rulings that provide a means for two trucking companies to subpoena Haslam for a sworn deposition.
The two companies, FST Express and HB Logistics, are suing Pilot Travel Centers, the Haslam family owned truck stop firm, charging they were cheated out of millions of dollars in promised rebates on diesel fuel purchases.
In requesting Young to issue a commission to subpoena Haslam, lawyers for the truckers acknowledged that they could petition a Tennessee court directly to issue a subpoena.
Shawn J. Organ, one of the lawyers representing the truckers, said Friday they will now go directly to Tennessee courts to schedule the deposition.
Though he heads the nationwide truck stop chain, Haslam has stated repeatedly that he was unaware of a scheme by Pilot sales staffers to cheat truckers out of promised rebates.
The trucking firms, however, contend they need Haslam's testimony because those involved in the scheme, including former President Mark Hazelwood, reported to Haslam.
"Haslam should be able to shed light on how the fraud was conducted, why Pilot did nothing to stop it until the FBI raided Pilot's headquarters on April 15, 2013 and whether Pilot's top executives turned a blind eye to fraud," lawyers for the trucking firms stated in the petition seeking the subpoena.
Hazelwood is under indictment on mail and wire fraud charges along with seven other former Pilot staffers. They all have entered not guilty pleas. The charges stem from a federal probe of Pilot's rebate practices.
Ten other former Pilot sales staffers already have entered guilty pleas to mail and wire fraud charges and await sentencing in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tenn.
Citing rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court and Tennessee laws, Young wrote, "Upon review, court involvement is unnecessary in this issue. For the foregoing reasons plaintiff's motion for the deposition of Jimmy A. Haslam 3d is rendered moot."
FST and HB are two of three trucking firms still pursuing civil claims against Pilot. The third case was filed in Mobile, Ala. by Wright Transportation.
The rebate allegations have proven costly for Pilot, the country's largest truck stop chain. Some $175 million has been paid to settle claims filed by other trucking firms and the federal government.