Former Pilot Flying J president Mark Hazelwood was found guilty by a jury on Thursday of three out of the four federal charges brought against him – including conspiracy to commit mail/wire fraud and witness tampering – in connection with his role in a multi-million dollar rebate scam to bilk customers out of a total of $56 million. He was found not guilty on the remaining charge of wire fraud.
Additionally, former Pilot vice president Scott Wombold and former direct sales person Heather Jones were found guilty of a single count of mail/wire fraud and wire fraud, respectively.
The trio will learn their sentencing on June 27th in Chattanooga.
Pilot Flying J is the 14th largest privately held company in the United States. A majority of the company’s stock is owned by the Haslam family, which includes company founder Big Jim Haslam and his sons, company CEO Jimmy Haslam and Gov. Bill Haslam.
Earlier this year, Pilot Flying J announced it had completed a deal to sell a controlling interest in the company to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway company.
WBIR was outside the courthouse and spoke to Hazelwood’s attorney, Rusty Hardin. Reacting to the verdict, he told reporters, “We continue to believe he’s not guilty, and we respectfully disagree with the jury, but we honor it. I never complain about what a jury does. So now we appeal, and we look forward to moving on there.”
WBIR reports that although none are in custody, a magistrate will determine in a hearing on Friday if Hazlewood may remain out on bond until his sentencing this summer. Prosecutors point out that his access to a private plane, his home in Italy, and general financial means may tempt the guilty man to flee.
Attorney Hardin dismissed the concern, saying, “He’s not a flight risk, and I hope that’s what the magistrate concludes tomorrow,” Hardin, Hazelwood’s attorney, said. “He’s stuck around, he’s been around five years for this thing. No reason to believe he’s going to leave now.”
The jury began hearing the case in November of 2017. The verdict came after a full week of deliberations by the 12-member jury, who received the case last Wednesday, February 7.
WBIR recapped the central issue of the case: the rebate scam:
Trucking firms buying fuel in bulk from the giant private company would be promised one rebate rate but would end up getting a lesser amount, the government alleged. Often customers didn’t even know they were being duped, prosecutors said.
The scheme netted Pilot and some sales employees millions of dollars.
Fourteen former Pilot Flying J employees have pleaded guilty, and some of them testified during the trial. They’re awaiting sentencing by U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier. Some sentences are set for May.
The government offered secret tape recordings of Pilot meetings, in-house emails and documents and the testimony of former employees in its bid to convict the four. A former employee began cooperating with authorities in 2011, and a second confederate assisted.
The fraud amounted to about $56 million, the government alleges. Pilot paid a federal penalty in 2014 of $92 million and also has paid more than $80 million in civil settlements to customers who sued over the scheme.
Read more about the attorneys, pleadings, verdicts, and case details here.