Former executives of Haslam-owned chain get 2017 trial date

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The former president of the company owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will face trial next year along with seven others on charges they conspired to cheat customers out of promised discounts and rebates.

The trial was originally set for April. On Tuesday, attorneys for the former Pilot Flying J employees told a federal magistrate in Knoxville they need more time to prepare for the complex case. A motion to postpone the trial says information the government collected through search warrants includes about five terabytes of data, which could translate to hundreds of millions of pages.

Those indicted include former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood, former vice-presidents John “Stick” Freeman and Scott “Scooter” Wombold, and five other members of the sales team. All eight have pleaded not guilty.

Jimmy Haslam has denied any previous knowledge of the alleged fraud or any personal wrongdoing. The governor has said he is not involved with operating Pilot Flying J.

According to the indictment, Freeman advised sales staff to “say one thing, do another,” when it came to dealing with customers. The indictment also included 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 email, an employee quotes Freeman as saying, “we just need to sing from the same hymn book.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton set a new trial date of Oct. 24, 2017.

Ten former Pilot employees previously pleaded guilty in the scheme, which came to light after federal agents raided the company’s Knoxville headquarters in April 2013. The company previously paid a $92 million penalty to the government and another $85 million to settle claims with 5,500 trucking companies in a class-action lawsuit.