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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pilot Flying J sales executive at the center of a federal fraud investigation combined with his wife to contribute $12,000 to the campaign of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in recent years.
John Freeman, vice president of sales at Pilot, gave a combined $5,000 to Haslam's 2010 gubernatorial campaign and an additional $2,000 last year. Freeman's wife, Monica, gave $5,000 in 2010.
Freeman was singled out in a search warrant affidavit released last week by the FBI as one of the sales executives who allegedly ran a rebate scheme to cheat Pilot Flying J customers, mostly trucking companies, out of millions of dollars. Knoxville-based Pilot is the nation's largest truck-stop operator.
A spokesman with the governor's office declined to explain the relationship between Haslam and Freeman. Haslam was president of the family-owned business until 2002. According to the affidavit, the FBI's investigation focuses on the years after that.
The governor's brother, Jimmy Haslam III, is now CEO of the company. Jimmy Haslam is also owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
"From January 2009 through October 2010, the governor's campaign received 18,432 contributions from 11,613 donors across all 95 counties," said the governor's spokesman, Dave Smith. "It's natural that a Pilot employee would be one of those."
Freeman was not the only Pilot executive to give to Bill Haslam's gubernatorial campaign. Nine other Pilot executives whose names were mentioned in the affidavit also contributed to Haslam, including company President Mark Hazelwood. Along with their spouses, those contributions eclipsed $56,000 to Haslam's campaign in recent years. Of that, $24,400 came from Hazelwood and his wife.
The governor has largely distanced himself from the federal investigation, while maintaining support for his brother.
Freeman gave $2,500 in 2009 and $2,500 in 2010. He gave $2,000 to Haslam's re-election campaign in 2012.
On Monday, Jimmy Haslam announced that members of the sales staff would be placed on administrative leave while the company continues to look into the matter. The company did not specify which sales staffers were put on leave or whether they would be paid while they are away.
However, the contact web page for Pilot's sales staff no longer lists information for Freeman or Brian Mosher, the director of sales for national accounts, and the other executive blistered in the affidavit made public last week. Mosher worked from his Iowa home for Pilot while Freeman worked from the company headquarters in Knoxville. Both were listed on the website Monday.
The affidavit recounts in great detail an Oct. 25 sales meeting at Freeman's house during which the rebate program was discussed in detail. The meeting was secretly recorded by a regional sales director who had become an FBI informant. According to the transcript, Freeman and his colleagues discussed plans to train other staffers on how the scheme worked and for Mosher to hold a special breakout session on the subject.
"Brian's gonna talk to 'em about what a manual discount is," Freeman was quoted as saying.
According to the affidavit, Freeman and Mosher would manually reduce rebates due trucking companies who had entered into agreements where they would receive money back based on the volume of fuel they purchased.
Jimmy Haslam said Monday he was embarrassed by the details raised in the affidavit.
By Nate Rau
and Walter F. Roche Jr.