- 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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VW to build new SUV in Tennessee, add 2,000 jobs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Volkswagen plans to build a new seven-passenger SUV at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, adding about 2,000 factory jobs as it tries to reverse U.S. sales that have fallen for the past two years.

The German automaker announced Monday that it will invest $600 million to expand the factory and set up a new research center that will employ about 200 engineers. The research facility will coordinate products for North America to quickly include customer feedback into planned and existing models, the company said.

The announcement comes after months of political wrangling over the role of organized labor at the factory, which now employs about 2,400 workers and makes only one model, the Passat midsize car.

Production of the new SUV, based on the CrossBlue concept vehicle unveiled in Detroit last year, is scheduled to start at the end of 2016. It gives VW an entry into an important segment of the U.S. market - the family people hauler.

VW sales fell almost 7 percent last year and are down more than 13 percent so far this year, largely because the company doesn’t have competitive products in key market segments. VW had a big year in 2012, with sales rising 35 percent to more than 438,000. But sales fell to about 408,000 last year, and the brand sold only 179,000 through June this year.

“The Volkswagen brand is going on the attack again in America,” Martin Winterkorn, chairman of Volkswagen AG’s management board, said in a statement, repeating the goal of selling 800,000 Volkswagen brand vehicles in the U.S. by 2018.

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Gore, Kennedy clan at Tenn. funeral for press icon

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Former Vice President Al Gore and members of the Kennedy family joined hundreds of other mourners Monday for the funeral of renowned journalist and press freedom champion John Seigenthaler, whose career spanned the civil rights struggle in the South and contemporary battles for media openness in the digital age.

“We lost a giant,” said Gore following the Mass in Nashville, which was attended by more than 600 people from the worlds of politics, media, humanitarian groups and entertainment.

The funeral reflected the wide reach of Seigenthaler’s career, which included leading the newspapers The Tennessean and USA Today and working as a civil rights adviser during the administration of John F. Kennedy. Seigenthaler also was part of Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign and a pallbearer at Kennedy’s funeral after his assassination in 1968.

Seigenthaler later directed a center at Vanderbilt University dedicated to media freedoms and First Amendment rights for established news outlets as well as the evolving landscape of online journalism. He died Friday at his home in Nashville.

Charles Strobel, the founder of a homeless outreach group in Nashville, delivered the eulogy in which he said Seigenthaler’s commitment to the principles of equality and fairness was “deeply spiritual.”

“He spent a lifetime coming to the defense of others,” Strobel said.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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