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As litigation continues, Goodell says NFL proud to have Haslam as owner

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL is proud to have Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam as an owner. (Associated Press: JAY LAPRETE)

The Associated Press

8/13/2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While a federal judicial panel denied a request by trucking companies to have one judge preside over numerous lawsuits filed against the truck-stop chain owned by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and another trucking company has filed suit, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is standing solidly behind Jimmy Halsam.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Portland, Maine, ruled last week that consolidating the cases would delay settlement proceedings over fraudulent fuel rebates by Pilot Flying J.

Pilot, the nation's largest diesel retailer, last month agreed to settle one of the lawsuits, a class-action suit in Arkansas, by offering to reimburse with interest all the money trucking companies were owed since 2005.

Attorneys for other trucking companies suing Pilot have called the settlement rushed and inadequate.

Pilot Flying J won the round in court last week, as a federal panel sided with the company regarding the consolidation of civil lawsuits.

Meanwhile,

Cedar Creek Trucking, based in Dalton, Georgia, has filed its complaint in Knox County Circuit Court in Knoxville, bringing to 23 the number of trucking companies across the country claiming Haslam's company cheated truckers on promised fuel rebates.

In conjunction with the lawsuit, Cedar Creek's attorneys are seeking to question Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam under oath about the alleged rebate fraud during a videotaped deposition scheduled for Oct. 15, 2013.

Notices for videotaped depositions have also been filed for former company president Mark Hazelwood, Vice-President John Freeman and spokesperson Tom Ingram.

Included in the lawsuit is notice that "Cedar Creek does not wish to participate" in a proposed settlement agreement reached last month in a federal court in Arkansas.

On the sports side of the Halsam situation, Goodell has expressed his confidence in Cleveland's owner and said the league has no plans to intervene or discipline him at this point.

Goodell visited Cleveland's training camp last week to launch a program between the league and Pop Warner with USA Football's Heads Up Football Program. Following a clinic with young players, Goodell said he's satisfied with Haslam's handling of the federal investigation at Pilot Flying J, and said the league is proud to be associated with its newest owner.

"Jimmy Haslam is a man of great integrity," Goodell said. "We're proud to have him as an owner in the NFL and think he's going to be a great owner for the Cleveland Browns and their fans. He's as disappointed as anybody in what happened at Pilot J and he's working hard to fix it and correct those issues, both from a structural standpoint and to make amends."

Goodell added that the league has no plans to intervene at this time.

"I don't think it's a matter for us at this moment," Goodell said.

Goodell said Haslam assured him he knew nothing of the rebate scam.

"He's been very clear that he's had no knowledge of that and he's been clear publicly and clear with you all," Goodell said. "He doesn't need any pushing. This company means a lot to him and he's obviously not happy about what has happened and he's determined to fix it. Jimmy is more disappointed than anybody."

Pressed about what the league might do if Haslam were indicted, Goodell refused to presume anything.

"We're not going to play the hypothetical game," Goodell said. "Right now he's addressing the issues. We're confident he's going to deal with it properly. You're dealing with a bunch of hypotheticals. We're not going there."

Goodell said the league was thorough in its vetting of Haslam, who was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers before buying the Browns.

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