Houston lawyer representing quarterback Deshaun Watson played a role in a fraud trial for Browns owner Jimmy Haslam

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Houston attorney Rusty Harden, representing new Browns quarterback, Deshaun Watson, has defended a former executive in a fraud investigation with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, Pilot Flying J.

Watson, who has not been charged with a criminal offense but faces 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct with massage therapists, joined the Browns Friday and is expected to miss at least part of his first season as the NFL investigates allegations set forth in the lawsuits.

In a recent statement, Hardin said it takes “enormous courage” for victims of sexual assault to share what happened to them, but social media has been used as a weapon to stir public opinion against Watson by women’s attorney Tony Busby.

“I want to stress at the outset that we and Deshaun understand that sexual assault and harassment is not only illegal but morally wrong. It takes courage from women to come forward to report their abuse, especially when they attach their names to a lawsuit,” Hardin said in his statement.

We do not take these allegations lightly. However, fairness to the accused is just as important. The opposing counsel has orchestrated a circus-like atmosphere by using social media to announce 14 “Jane Doe” lawsuits over the past seven days in a way calculated to stoke the public and tarnish Deshaun’s stellar reputation. Additionally, the tactic of denying our requests to provide the names of the plaintiffs confidentially so that we can fully investigate their allegations makes it extremely difficult to uncover the truth. Anonymity is often necessary as a shield for victims, but an opposing attorney used it as a sword to publicly humiliate Deshaun before the truth-seeking process could begin.”

Hardin defended Watson, stating that the claim that he forced a woman to commit a sexual act was “completely wrong.”

Hardin was one of the lead defense attorneys in a years-long fraud case against the Hassan family’s truck stop chain, and the pilots’ prosecutors say the scheme ran from at least 2008 until agents stormed the company’s headquarters in 2013.

Hassan has never been charged.

Hardin was represented by former Pilot Flying J CEO Mark Hazelwood, who was convicted.

At least 17 Flying Pilot J employees have been indicted after prosecutors said sales staff withheld tens of thousands of dollars a month in agreed rebates. Salespeople sought out companies they believed could be duped, and paid a fraction of what was owed to them, a move that earned larger commissions.

Read Hardin’s full statement on Watson’s lawsuits here.

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