NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A former top executive of the truck stop chain owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam advised sales staff to “Say one thing, do another,” when it came to dealing with customers, according to an indictment.
Former Vice-President of Sales John “Stick” Freeman is one of eight Pilot Flying J former executives and sales employees charged with conspiracy to defraud the trucking companies who bought their fuel. The indictment was unsealed in federal court in Knoxville on Tuesday.
The indictment outlines a scheme that took place over a five-year period in which sales staff often promised customers one discount but gave them a different, lesser one. It offers several examples of employees and their bosses discussing the need to co-ordinate the lies they were telling customers so as not to get caught.
In one, an employee in an email quotes Freeman as saying, “we just need to sing from the same hymn book.”
Attorneys for Freeman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other employee emails in the indictment discuss the need to determine which customers might be sophisticated enough to detect the fraud and prey only on the unsophisticated ones.
Other former executives charged in the conspiracy include former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood, who faces an additional charge of witness tampering, and former Vice-President of National Accounts Scott “Scooter” Wombold, who faces an additional charge of making false statements.
Freeman, Hazelwood, Wombold and the other five former employees all pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, according to Sharry Dedman-Beard, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Wombold’s attorney, John Kelly, said in an email, “Mr. Wombold disputes the charges against him and looks forward to having his day in court.” Hazelwood’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Pilot earlier paid a $92 million penalty to the government in an agreement with prosecutors in which the company accepted responsibility for the criminal actions of its employees. Ten former employees previously pleaded guilty in the scheme, which came to light after federal agents raided the company’s Knoxville headquarters in April 2013.
Pilot paid out another $85 million to settle claims with 5,500 trucking companies in a class-action lawsuit.
Jimmy Haslam has denied any previous knowledge of the fraud or any personal wrongdoing. The governor has said he is not involved with operating Pilot Flying J.
Pilot officials issued a statement saying they were “disappointed and saddened” by news of the indictments.
“We can say that since this unfortunate episode began, the company has put in place policies and procedures unparalleled in the industry to prevent anything like this from happening again,” the statement reads.
Pilot is the nation’s largest diesel retailer with $31.4 billion in revenue in 2014.