Pilot Flying J said Monday it has "reached an understanding with the U. S. Attorney's office" and the U. S. Department of Justice.
KNOXVILLE -- Pilot Flying J has reached an understanding with the U. S. Attorney's office, Eastern District of Tennessee, and the U. S. Department of Justice, that the company will not be prosecuted, assuming it follows the terms of the agreement, including paying a monetary penalty over the next two years and fully cooperating with the federal government's investigation of fraudulent conduct within the company's diesel fuel sales discount programs.
A news release from Pilot Flying J reads:
"We, as a company, look forward to putting this whole unfortunate episode behind us, continuing our efforts to rectify the damage done, regaining our customers' trust, and getting on with our business," said CEO Jimmy Haslam. "We've been committed from the beginning of this to doing the right thing, and that remains our commitment."
A report on ProFootballTalk.com is saying that "while "the company" doesn't necessarily include Haslam, it's unlikely that the company would agree to a deal that would result in the payment of $92 million and full cooperation that would, in turn, get Haslam indicted and potentially convicted."
WKYC Channel 3's Jim Donovan says that the entire federal investigation was funneled in a way to go after Haslam. When the 10 former employees pleaded guilty, he believes the federal government didn't have enough evidence to charge Haslam.
And the Cleveland Browns had a chain of command plan in place in case Haslam was charged – who would run the team, who would make decisions.
Former federal prosecutor Dean Valore tells WKYC, "It does not close the book on Jimmy, but it significantly closes a chapter of the book."
Did Haslam buy his way out of criminal prosecution?
Valore says no.
"The government took a long, hard look at the evidence and felt it wasn't sufficient for criminal prosecution of Pilot Flying J and Haslam."
The $92 million penalty is on top of the $85 million the company agreed to pay trucking customers that were victims of a scheme to cheat them out of millions of fuel rebates.
Full Pilot Flying J coverage: Read investigation history
The Pilot Flying J release continued:
The past 15 months, since the federal government served a search warrant on the company's headquarters, have been very trying for all involved," said Aubrey Harwell, Pilot Flying J's attorney. "The company has cooperated fully with the government and will continue to do so. As to its customers, the company has gone to extraordinary lengths to understand and identify any wrongdoing and make it right."
"Under the terms of the agreement," Harwell added, "the company has certain obligations, which it fully intends to fulfill. We appreciate the diligence the U. S. Attorney's office has shown in this matter. It certainly has been no less diligent than our own internal investigation. I believe this agreement is the result of the good intentions of both sides to do the right thing."
The agreement, titled a "Criminal Enforcement Agreement," is neither an indictment nor a finding of guilt. It clearly states that the company will not be prosecuted under any current circumstances so long as the company complies with the terms of the agreement. However, individuals may still be prosecuted.
Under the agreement, Pilot Flying J also acknowledges and accepts full responsibility for any criminal conduct committed by its employees, including some personnel involved with the operation and oversight of its direct diesel fuel sales group, an approximately 90-member division of the company, which overall has 23,000 employees and 650 retail locations nationwide.
Over the two year term of the agreement, in addition to paying the monetary penalty, which the government has set at $92 million consistent with the United States Sentencing Guidelines, the company also commits to keep the government advised of the status of its internal compliance program, which it voluntarily initiated immediately following the execution of the warrant last year."
Read Pilot Flying J agreement:
July 14, 2014: Pilot Flying J to avoid prosecution, pay fine. WKYC-TV