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Haslam gives testimony in Pilot Flying J litigation

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 20: Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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How can a winless season get a lot worse? When the owner gives sworn testimony in a controversy that could still result in an indictment -- and all the various things that may follow.

Via the Associated Press, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was due to be questioned under oath on Tuesday in a lawsuit arising from the rebate scandal at Pilot Flying J, the truck-stop company owned and operated by Haslam. The action involves the parties that opted out of a nationwide class action.

Technically, Haslam agreed to submit to the deposition. But that came at a time when he was in the process of being forced to comply.

“Mr. Haslam’s deposition is not warranted by the facts in these cases and plaintiffs’ pursuit of his deposition is nothing more than harassment,” attorney Steve Brody said. “Mr. Haslam is nevertheless eager to put this gamesmanship behind him and therefore voluntarily agreed to sit for deposition by the remaining civil plaintiffs.”

With the possibility of criminal charges still looming, Haslam may have to decide whether to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. That would significantly harm the company’s interests in the civil litigation, and it would potentially destroy Haslam’s standing in the court of public opinion.

Multiple employees and executives of Pilot Flying J have pleaded guilty to federal charges based on the failure to properly provide rebates to companies deemed to be not sufficiently sophisticated to realize what has happening.