KNOXVILLE -- Charging that Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam is trying to short-circuit a recently filed class action suit, attorneys for a Georgia trucking firm have asked a Knoxville judge to order the travel center executive to cease contacting trucking firms that may be victims of a rebate skimming scheme.
In a six-page motion filed Thursday in Knox County Circuit Court, lawyers for Atlantic Coast Carriers charged that Haslam's recent contact with the trucking executives "may constitute an improper attempt to coerce parties and witnesses under Tennessee law."
The motion asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order barring Haslam from making further contact with potential victims.
"At issue in this case is the danger that by obtaining releases in such a hurried fashion, defendants are inducing potential class members to waive important rights before they obtain proper legal advice or know the full extent of any damages they have," the motion states.
The filing is the latest development following the April 15 raid by FBI agents on Pilot's Knoxville headquarters. In a 120-page affidavit justifying that raid, which was made public a few days later, an FBI agent described widespread evidence of a scheme by Pilot sales executives to shave promised rebates to trucking companies to boost Pilot's profits and their own commissions.
The filing included transcripts of secretly taped meetings where the sales executives described how the scheme worked and how they could avoid detection.
Attorneys for the Georgia firm cited that affidavit extensively in filing a class action lawsuit earlier this week. Shortly afterward Haslam held a news conference to announce that he had begun contacting the trucking firms cited as victims by the FBI and promising to pay back any money owed them.
In the motion filed Thursday, the lawyer for Atlantic Coast charged that Haslam's calls were an attempt to undermine the class action suit by "obtaining releases and settling claims before the potential class members even know the full extent of their claims."
Even before the motion was formally filed, Aubrey Harwell, the Nashville attorney hired by Pilot to look into the federal allegations, called the witness tampering charges ludicrous. He said the motion was an attempt to punish Haslam for doing "the right thing" and making his customers whole.
But the Georgia attorneys charged that Pilot had no intention of paying back its customers until the charges were brought to light and the class action suit was filed.
"The money wrongfully withheld by defendants for years essentially constituted an interest-free loan from the potential class members," the motion states. As an example, the motion cites the case of one trucking company whose executives reversed themselves after being contacted by Haslam, going from "outspoken critic" to advocate.
Haslam is also the owner of the Cleveland Browns.
By Walter F. Roche Jr., The Tennessean
Gannett / The Tennessean