Pilot Flying J Held Employee Training Sessions on Defrauding Trucking Companies, According to Recording Played at Trial

Pilot Flying J held training sessions to instruct employees on defrauding trucking companies of promised diesel fuel rebates, according to a secret recording played for jurors last week and covered by the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Four former employees of the truck stop chain are on trial in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga in connection with the scheme.

A total of 18 former employees were charged in the scheme and 14 pleaded guilty. CEO Jimmy Haslam, brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and owner of the Cleveland Browns football team, has denied knowledge of the fraud and has not been charged, although a recording played for jurors earlier this month indicated he did know about it and endorsed it.

Former sales director Vincent Greco was wired by investigators to make secret recordings, including of training sessions. The recording played in court last week featured a conversation between former vice president of sales Scott Wombold, one of the four currently on trial, and Jason Holland, an employee who was being introduced to the fraud scheme and expressing discomfort with it. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports:

Wombold suggested that if Holland wasn’t comfortable lying, he could instead be vague with his trucking firm customers. He used an example of telling a firm Pilot Flying J would need to cap the company’s rebate in case the gap between the diesel fuel prices the truck stop giant was paying and what truckers paid got too big for Pilot Flying J.

The customer, he said, wouldn’t balk so long as the company was getting a check, and he would be lulled into not complaining if that check amount began to drop.

Holland has not been charged in the scheme.

The Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J was raided by FBI and IRS agents in April 2013. The company is the largest operator of travel centers in North America with more than 750 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Despite the fraud scheme, the company’s profile on LinkedIn continues to boast, “While much has changed over the last fifty-plus years, Pilot Flying J stands by the same principles upon which it was founded decades ago: integrity, customer service and valuing team members.”
A Haslam family business founded by the father of Jimmy and Bill Haslam, the first Pilot gas station opened in 1958 in Gate City, Virginia. Gov. Haslam still has an ownership share but has not been active in running the business for many years.

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