- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was deposed Tuesday in a civil lawsuit against the Pilot Flying J truck-stop chain, which is owned by his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, and other family members.

According to a court notice filed in Franklin County, Ohio, the deposition that was originally to be videotaped at a Knoxville, Tennessee, law office was moved to the conference room at the Pilot Aviation hangar at that city’s 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.

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.

“I knew nothing about the misconduct of some of our former employees,” Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam said in a statement following the deposition. “I wish I could discuss this entire matter freely with you today and answer your questions as I did the plaintiffs. I can’t do that yet.”

The depositions were not open to the public.

Haslam attorney A. B. Culvahouse said in a statement that his client has “done everything within his power to understand what happened and to make things right by his customers.”

“We think this entire exercise today was nothing more than an effort by the plaintiffs to harass the company into a windfall settlement,” he said.

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 trucking 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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