- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Haslam-owned truck-stop chain to pay $92M fine

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The truck-stop company owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has agreed to pay a $92 million penalty for cheating customers out of promised rebates and discounts, authorities announced Monday.

In an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Pilot Flying J has accepted responsibility for the criminal conduct of its employees, ten of whom have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme.

For its part, the government has agreed not to prosecute the nation’s largest diesel retailer as long as Pilot abides by the agreement. Among other conditions, Pilot has agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation of current and former employees. The agreement does not protect any individual at Pilot from prosecution.

The agreement was signed by U.S. Attorney Bill Killian on Thursday and attorneys for Knoxville-based Pilot on Friday.

Nashville criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor David Raybin, who has followed the case but is not involved, said the agreement most likely signals that Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam will not face charges.

“No prosecutor would enter into an agreement like this, ask for this kind of sanction, unless they didn’t have enough evidence to indict Haslam,” he said. “Also, Pilot would not agree to pay unless they felt the government would not prosecute him.”

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Chronology of Pilot Flying J truck stop probe

A timeline of events in the federal investigation into alleged rebate fraud at the Pilot Flying J truck-stop chain owned by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam:

- May 4, 2011: An informant contacts the FBI about a regional sales manager’s statement that Pilot is cheating customers out of contractually set rebates.

- Aug. 2, 2012: Jimmy Haslam buys the Cleveland Browns for $1 billion.

-Sept. 11, 2012: Jimmy Haslam steps down as CEO of Pilot Flying J to concentrate on rebuilding the NFL franchise. He remains board chairman.

- Oct, 4, 2012: A Pilot regional sales manager agrees to cooperate with FBI investigators and record conversations with colleagues.

- Oct. 25, 2012: The confidential source records meeting at Tennessee lake house of John “Stick” Freeman, Pilot’s vice president of sales. Freeman recounts getting caught withholding rebate money from a customer and brags he had to pay back $1 million but still came out $6 million ahead. Asked about Jimmy Haslam’s reaction, Freeman is recorded as saying: “He knew it all along. Loved it.”

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