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Defense in Pilot Flying J case hints that Haslam knew about diesel rebate fraud


Attorneys for the defense in the Pilot Flying J diesel fuel rebate scam trial will be focusing on the relationship between company owner Jimmy Haslam and a co-conspirator in an attempt to prove that Haslam was aware of the multi-million dollar scheme.

The trial, which is currently taking place in Chatanooga, Tennessee, focuses on four former Pilot Flying J employees who have been accused of duping “unsophisticated” truckers out of promised fuel rebates as part of a major scheme that was uncovered by federal agents following a 2013 raid of company headquarters. Eighteen people were charged with fraud for their roles in the scheme. Of those eighteen, fourteen have pled guilty. The four remaining employees — former company president Mark Hazelwood, former vice president of national sales Scott Wombold, and sales account representatives Heather Jones and Karen Mann — who have not pled guilty are currently standing trial.

Federal prosecutors indicate that Pilot Flying J tricked truckers out of $56 million with the diesel fuel rebate scheme.

Defense Attorney Raises Questions About Haslam’s Role In Diesel Rebate Fraud

Though Jimmy Haslam has never personally been charged and denies all knowledge of the scheme, Rustin Hardin, an attorney working for Hazelwood’s defense, has called Haslam’s repeated denials into question.

Last Wednesday under questioning by Hardin, inside account executive Janet Welch stated that she believed that Haslam had knowledge of the rebate scam: “I assume that Jimmy Haslam knew. He was at the sales meetings at times and he is a totally hands on manager. He knew the numbers.

When Hardin asked Welch “Are you aware of anything that was going on in that company that he (Haslam) was unaware of?“, Welch replied, “No.

Defense: Relationship Between Haslam and Conspirator “Highly Relevant”

The next day, former director of sales Arnie Ralenkotter took to the witness stand to testify against the four former Pilot Flying J employees. Ralenkotter was the first sales director to admit to the scheme and faces up to 20 years in prison.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel:

“Hazelwood’s defense team has repeatedly reminded jurors that it was Haslam, not Hazelwood, who controlled Pilot Flying J and its employees. Hardin on Thursday asked ] Ralenkotter about Haslam’s relationship to former vice president John “Stick” Freeman, who has confessed his role as one of the leaders in crafting the fraud scheme.”

Hardin told the jury, “I think the relationship between one of the conspirators and Jimmy Haslam will be highly relevant.

Hardin asked Ralenkotter on the witness stand, “Mr. Freeman was particularly close to Jimmy Haslam, wasn’t he?”

Ralenkotter replied, “It appeared that way.”

The trial continues this week and is expected to last into December.



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