Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam, Cleveland Browns owner, talks to trucking leaders

Says he knew nothing about fraud

INDIANAPOLIS - Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam told trucking industry leaders Thursday in Indianapolis that he knew nothing about nor did he participate in an alleged fuel-rebate fraud.

He was responding to a question submitted in advance, and it was the first time he took questions about a federal raid on his company's Knoxville headquarters.

A month ago, FBI and IRS agents executed search warrants to seize files and records from the country's largest travel center operator.

On April 18, federal authorities unsealed search warrants laying out accusations of a scheme to cheat small trucking companies by deliberately shorting customers on promised diesel discounts and rebates.

Secret recordings by anonymous informants portrayed sales executives laughing about "playing liar's poker with funny money" and alleged Haslam knew about the fuel-rebate scheme.

Haslam has repeatedly denied wrongdoing but has been contacting clients about reimbursements.

"We've had to make adjustments regarding the accounts of 250 of our clients, to the detriment of Pilot Flying J and to the benefit of our clients," Haslam said during his remarks. That's about 5 percent of Pilot Flying J customers, he said.

He added he wasn't saying anybody did anything wrong, just that the company has made these adjustments.

He also told attendees at the Scopelitis Transportation Seminar that business is down about 3 percent since the probe became public, but he's seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

After the sessions, he told WEWS NewsChannel 5 that he's in constant communication with the NFL regarding the FBI probe.

He also told WEWS that he doesn't believe it will affect ownership of the Cleveland Browns, which Haslam bought for just over $1 billion last year.

Federal prosecutors have filed no charges related to the probe so far and won't say when — or if — any charges might be coming. Pilot has placed some sales staffers on leave — the company won't say which ones — as executives named in the search warrants have scrambled to hire lawyers.

More than a half-dozen civil lawsuits have been filed by trucking companies, which also have hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate their claims.

Pilot's internal investigation headed by Reid Weingarten, a former top U.S. Department of Justice lawyer, is underway.

At least seven companies have filed lawsuits in the past month — one in Knox County Circuit Court, one in Circuit Court in Butler County, Ala., and five others in federal courts around the country — demanding their money back with interest and damages. Three other companies have signed onto the Knox County lawsuit originally filed by Atlantic Coast Carriers of Hazlehurst, Ga., which seeks class-action status. A judge has not ruled on that bid.

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