Jury finds Hazelwood, Jones guilty of conspiracy in Pilot Flying J fraud trial

Pilot Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns, has denied knowledge of the fraud scheme and is not charged.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., — A jury on Thursday found former Pilot Flying J employees Mark Hazelwood and Heather Jones guilty of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Former employees Scott Wombold and Karen Mann were found not guilty of conspiracy.

The jury found Wombold guilty on a single count of wire fraud.

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Hazelwood also was found guilty of witness tampering and an individual count of fraud. He was acquitted on one count of fraud.

Jones was found not guilty on four counts of fraud.

Mann was the only defendant not convicted on any charges.

Sentencing has been scheduled for June 27 for Hazelwood, Wombold and Jones.

Former Pilot Flying J President Hazelwood, former vice president Wombold, and former account representatives Jones and Mann have been standing trial since November in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga on charges including conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

They were accused in a five-year plot within the direct sales division of Pilot Flying J to use promises of hefty diesel fuel discounts to lure trucking firms to do business with the truck stop giant and then shorting those firms on what they were promised.

Fourteen former Pilot Flying J executives and staffers have pleaded guilty. Two others were granted immunity. Pilot Flying J's board of directors has confessed criminal responsibility and paid out $92 million in criminal penalties and another $85 million in lawsuit settlements. The board is also picking up the defense bills for its former staffers, including Hazelwood.

Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns, has denied knowledge of the fraud scheme and is not charged.

Agents with the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation Division raided Pilot Flying J's Knoxville headquarters on Tax Day 2013 after having convinced former sales executive Vincent Greco to secretly record meetings at which the fraud scheme was discussed.

Jurors have heard roughly 20 days of testimony by 26 witnesses, viewed hundreds of exhibits, including incriminating emails, and listened to secret recordings that not only captured fraud talk but also caught Hazelwood and his salesmen making racially offensive comments, using racial epithets, and mocking the Browns, the team's fans and Pilot Flying J board members.

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The jury on Wednesday said via a note they had reached a unanimous verdict on all but one charge involving one defendant. On Thursday morning, the panel said in a note they remained deadlocked on that one charge.

U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier then gave what is known as a "dynamite" legal instruction designed to prompt jurors to reexamine their individual votes and try one last time for an unanimous decision.