A year to the day after federal agents conducted a very public raid on the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J a big question still hangs in the air. Where will it end?
A year to the day after federal agents conducted a very public raid on the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J, with 10 of the company's former sales officials awaiting sentencing on fraud charges, a big question still hangs in the air.
Where will it end?
Federal agents have charged that Pilot, the largest truck-stop chain in the country, routinely cheated trucking companies out of millions of dollars in promised diesel fuel rebates by secretly manipulating purchasing records.
Pilot officials and their attorneys say that despite the ongoing investigation, reams of adverse publicity and the abrupt departure of top sales executives, the company has been doing well, with annual revenues topping an estimated $28 billion.
"As a private company, we do not disclose those details, but business is very good," said Rachel Albright, a Pilot spokeswoman.
Pilot CEO James Haslam has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the rebate fraud and quickly vowed to pay truckers all they were owed plus interest. But a 120-page affidavit filed in federal court after the raid included transcripts of secretly taped sales meetings in which a top sales executive told his colleagues that Haslam did know about the scheme.
So the company's top executive, who also is the brother of Gov. Bill Haslam and the owner of the Cleveland Browns, has a huge stake in the outcome of the criminal case.
On the civil side, court records show seven lawsuits are pending against Pilot over the rebates. Last week a panel of federal judges ordered those cases consolidated before a judge in Kentucky. Pilot attorney Aubrey Harwell said up to 20 more civil suits could be filed by companies that rejected a settlement offer.
Timeline: Pilot Flying J investigation
Pilot's lawyers have accused Wright Transportation, an Alabama firm, of going on "a fishing expedition" by issuing subpoenas for thousands of documents. They've asked the court to sharply limit the scope of those subpoenas.
Many of the civil cases were settled in a class-action suit in Arkansas in which Pilot agreed to pay $85 million, including 6 percent interest, to reimburse trucking firms for rebates they were never paid.
Nashville criminal defense attorney David Raybin said the plea deals by former Pilot employees indicate prosecutors are aiming higher and higher in the company echelons. He predicted the investigation could be completed shortly.
Noting that those who have pleaded guilty are still awaiting sentencing, he said it was likely that those defendants will be called on to testify against their superiors before they learn their fate.
Raybin and others familiar with federal criminal statutes said that despite the lengthy time since the investigation began, prosecutors aren't in danger of facing statute of limitation problems. Those limits don't expire until some five to 10 years after the criminal activity.
As for the internal investigation announced by Jimmy Haslam after the federal raid, Albright said it was ongoing. She said the company had been responsive to federal investigators. They have asked for additional documents, and the company has complied with the request.
"We've continued to cooperate, as we have from the beginning," she said.