News / World

Former Pilot exec: Haslam 'loved' trucking rip-off scheme

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A former truck stop company executive boasted in a secretly recorded conversation that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam "loved it" when the sales team ripped off customers.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the jury in the federal fraud trial of former Pilot Flying J executives and sales representatives heard a recording of former vice-president John "Stick" Freeman saying Haslam was aware of the scheme to deprive trucking customers of the diesel discounts they had negotiated.

"He knew — absolutely," Freeman said in the recording.

Pilot, which is controlled by the Haslam family, issued a statement reiterating that "Jimmy Haslam was not aware of any wrongdoing."

Haslam hasn't been charged in the investigation that has resulted in 14 guilty pleas among former Pilot employees, including Freeman.

The details of the investigation into Pilot first came to light after an April 2013 raid of the company's headquarters in Knoxville. A 120-page FBI affidavit produced in support of the search warrant included transcripts of undercover recordings of Pilot employees discussing the scheme, often in crass terms.

Pilot ultimately agreed to an $85 million settlement with most of the defrauded customers as well as a $92 million penalty to the government.

Those facing trial in Chattanooga are former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood, former vice-president Scott "Scooter" Wombold and two former saleswomen, Heather Jones and Karen Mann. Their lawyers said in opening statements that they should not be found guilty by association and that they didn't knowingly commit illegal acts.

Tuesday was the sixth day of the trial that is expected to last six weeks or more. Proceedings are being held in Chattanooga, around 100 miles (160 kilometres ) southwest of Pilot's headquarters in Knoxville.

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

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