By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Cleveland Browns owner James A. Haslam will be deposed before the end of the year in an Ohio suit brought by trucking firms who are charging that the Haslam family owned Pilot Travel Centers cheated them out of millions of dollars in promised rebates.
In a statement issued Wednesday in response to questions, Pilot spokeswoman Rachel Albright said Haslam's lawyers were currently negotiating with the trucking firms to set final details for the deposition to be conducted in Knoxville, Tenn.
While noting that Haslam has asserted that his deposition was not necessary, Albright said he had agreed several months ago to be questioned under oath.
"As a result, we have been working with plaintiffs' counsel and expect Mr. Haslam's deposition to occur before the end of the year," the Pilot spokeswoman wrote.
Shawn Organ, an attorney for the plaintiff trucking companies, said that details of the deposition scheduling would be filed soon in the Franklin County court.
The disclosure comes on the eve of a key hearing in the case scheduled for Thursday before Franklin County Judge David C. Young.
Haslam has insisted that he had no knowledge of a scheme by Pilot sales executives to cheat trucking firms out of promised rebates.
His testimony is being sought in an Ohio suit brought by two truckers, FST Express and HB Logistics.
His testimony is also being sought in an Alabama suit brought by Wright Transportation. That firm also has charged that it was cheated out of promised rebates.
Court records in the Ohio suit show HB and FST also have issued a subpoena for records of Comdata, a fuel card company that acts as an intermediary between trucking companies and fuel suppliers.
The rebate cheating scandal already has proven costly for Pilot, the largest truck stop firm in the country.
The firm has paid some $175 million to settle charges in an Arkansas class action and claims by the federal government.
Ten former Pilot executives have entered guilty pleas to mail and wire fraud charges while another eight are scheduled to go on trial next year.