NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An attorney representing the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain says charges that the company's CEO is engaging in witness tampering by contacting trucking firms that may have been victims of a rebate scheme are outrageous.
Nashville attorney Aubrey Harwell, who was hired by Pilot after federal investigators raided the company headquarters last week, labeled the witness tampering charges "ludicrous, absurd and simply without any basis in fact."
He said CEO Jimmy Haslam, who is also owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, was simply trying to "do the right thing" and reimburse trucking firms if indeed they were shorted on promised rebates. Family-owned Pilot Flying J of Knoxville, Tenn., is the nation's largest truck stop company.
"To translate that into some impropriety is absurd," Harwell said. "If he didn't do that, he'd be criticized."
The charges of witness tampering were leveled by the attorney who filed a class-action suit this week against Pilot on behalf of a Georgia trucking firm, Atlantic Coast Carriers Inc.
Atlantic's attorney Mark A. Tate told WBIR-TV in Knoxville it was "inappropriate and wrong" for Haslam to be contacting the trucking firms named as possible victims in a 120-page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville last week.
Haslam, the brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, had announced in a news briefing that he was contacting the trucking firms to assure them that if they were not given promised rebates, Pilot would make amends.
Tate told WBIR he planned to file a motion in the suit he filed in circuit court in Knoxville asking the judge to issue an order barring Haslam from further contact with the truckers.
In the class-action suit he filed earlier this week, Tate charged that the Georgia company was one of the victims of the alleged rebate scheme in which earned rebates were secretly reduced "to increase Pilot profits and increase commissions of its sales agents."
The suit repeatedly cites the affidavit filed by the FBI last week to justify the search of Pilot headquarters. The affidavit details a series of meetings of Pilot sales executives at which the rebate reduction scheme was discussed. The sessions were secretly recorded by an FBI informant.
Filings in federal court Wednesday list dozens of Pilot files that were seized in the raid.
Atlantic Coast, the complaint states, has been "damaged by Pilot's misrepresentations, concealment, and non-disclosure of the correct rebate amounts."
The seven-page complaint charges that Pilot engaged in racketeering and corrupt practices.
By Walter F. Roche Jr.