Pilot Flying J owner Jimmy Haslam broke his silence Friday to separate himself and the company from former president Mark Hazelwood, when the presiding judge in the ongoing, $92 million fuel rebate scam case described a previously sealed recording of Hazelwood as “vile, despicable, inflammatory” and “beyond the pale.”
“I’m actually glad you brought that up,” Haslam told FOX News 8 during a news conference regarding the hiring of a new general manager for the winless Cleveland Browns.
After establishing it was inappropriate to discuss the ongoing legal matter, he made an exception in this case saying Thursday’s revelations in court justify comment.
“First, none of those individuals work for us anymore. No one who works for our company now was at that event [where Hazelwood was recorded]. That’s not how we act or do things. And those kind of remarks are intolerable.”
The FOX News 8 reporter followed up asking Haslam about the company footing the hefty legal expenses for the former executives now on trial. Haslam replied, “without getting into too much detail, it’s traditional when employees of a company are sued or have a legal problem, until those employees plead guilty or are found guilty, the company pays for their legal expenses, so that will continue.”
The discussion of the explosive recording comes as a long-standing argument by the prosecution finally gained traction, and U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier revealed the content of a sealed tape of former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood.
The remarks in question were recorded by former Pilot salesman-turned-FBI-informant Vincent Greco, which federal prosecutor Trey Hamilton argued impugns Hazelwood’s defense attorney statements that Hazelwood’s integrity, leadership values, and personal commitment to his company governed his decisions and would have prevented him from doing anything that risked damage to Pilot’s reputation.
Normally, prosecutors are not allowed to introduce general character evidence to argue that a defendant was likely to commit an alleged crime. That is, unless the defendant voluntarily introduces evidence of their “good character” in order to argue they were unlikely to commit a crime, and that is what prosecutors say has happened in this case.
“Mr. Hazelwood’s utterances are beyond the pale,” Judge Collier said in court Thursday, according to several news outlets. “Several subordinates of Mr. Hazelwood were present. Mr. Hazelwood was in a position of authority over them.”
Black people, the Cleveland Browns, along with the entirety of Cleveland were the targets of Hazelwood’s uncensored rants, made in a meeting of a number of Pilot sales executives.
“If it became known the president of Pilot engaged in vile, despicable, inflammatory racial epithets against African Americans, this could lead to boycotts and protests,” Collier said, stopping short of playing the recording – for now.
Judge Collier put the trial on hold, as planned, and proceedings will resume after the holidays on January 10, where Collier says he will allow the jurors to hear the recording.
Jimmy Haslam has not been charged with a crime individually, and he has consistently denied knowledge of the alleged rebate scam.
So far, Pilot Flying J – the nation’s largest diesel fuel retailer – has paid over $170 million in fines and settlements related to the matter.