Judges say Arkansas court should continue talking about settlement

1:28 PM, Aug 8, 2013   |    comments
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A panel of federal judges has rejected a request to consolidate multiple lawsuits filed against Pilot Flying J, the travel center chain enmeshed in a federal investigation into charges that it skimmed promised diesel fuel rebates to dozens of truckers across the country.

In a two-page decision issued today, the panel of judges concluded that it would be best to allow an Arkansas court to continue its deliberations on a proposed settlement which already has won initial approval from a district court judge in Little Rock.

A fairness hearing already has been scheduled in that case for Nov. 25.

The panel heard arguments on the consolidation motion last month in Portland, Maine.

"On the basis of the papers filed and hearing session held, we deny the motion," the ruling states. Attorneys for Pilot had argued that the motion should be denied.

As the panel noted, all the suits stem from the same allegations that Pilot engaged in a "fraudulent scheme of withholding diesel fuel rebates or discounts."

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The suits followed an April 15 raid on Pilot's Knoxville headquarters and the subsequent filing of a 120-page affidavit including transcripts of secretly recorded meeting of Pilot executives discussing the rebate scheme. Seven Pilot executives already have pled guilty to conspiracy and wire and mail fraud charges.

James A. Haslam, Pilot's top executive has denied knowledge of the scheme and has vowed to pay back truckers what they are owed plus 6 per cent interest.

The proposed settlement in the Arkansas case would make that a court approved certainty.

"Centralization at this time could delay settlement proceedings," the panel concluded noting that truckers who don't agree to the Arkansas settlement terms can opt out.

Walter F. Roche The Tennessean

Gannett/The Tennessean

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