Pilot Flying J Trial: Haslam 'Absolutely' Knew About Scheme to Defraud Truckers


  • Wikipedia
  • Jimmy!
The trial against four former Pilot Flying J executives is ongoing in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

On Tuesday, the trial's sixth day, the big news was that jurors were played a secret recording in which a former vice president said that CEO Jimmy Haslam "absolutely" knew about the company's rebate scheme.

Not only that, he "loved it."

From the recording of VP John "Stick" Freeman:
“I mean, I called Jimmy and told him I got busted at Western Express … He knew – absolutely. I mean, (Haslam) knew all along that I was cost-plussin’ (code for the fraud scheme) this guy. He knew it all along. Loved it. We were making $450,000 a month on (Western Express).”

Western Express is a trucking company, one of many that Pilot Flying J defrauded by providing incomplete rebate payments on diesel fuel purchases.

Freeman also said on the recording that “it wasn’t a secret” at Pilot Flying J that the firm’s manual rebate system was being used to defraud trucking companies.

Still, Haslam has maintained that he never knew about the scheme. Pilot Flying J released a statement Tuesday reiterating Haslam's ignorance.

“As we have said from the outset, Jimmy Haslam was not aware of any wrongdoing,” the statement read.

Though Haslam himself has not been charged, the investigation has already produced 14 guilty pleas by former employees, including Freeman, the recorded VP. Former President Mark Hazelwood is among the four currently on trial.

Jimmy Haslam, of course, is also the owner of the Cleveland Browns.

Pilot Flying J is headquartered in Knoxville. The company's board of directors has confessed criminal responsibility in the scheme and agreed to pay $92 million as punishment. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that Pilot Flying J has also paid out $85 million in settlements with trucking companies and is now paying for the defense of Hazelwood and the other executives.

The Freeman recording had never been heard in public before jurors heard it Tuesday.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.