Saturday, May 26, 2018

Jury deliberates 4 hours in Pilot Flying J rebate scam; trial to continue Monday


Tuesday, February 13, 2018
by THE TRUCKER NEWS SERVICES

The attorney for former president of Pilot Flying J Mark Hazelwood, shown here leaving court, in the case against Hazelwood and three other former employees on charges of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, told jurors Tuesday that the case is a civil matter and shouldn’t be in criminal court. (Associated Press)
The attorney for former president of Pilot Flying J Mark Hazelwood, shown here leaving court, in the case against Hazelwood and three other former employees on charges of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, told jurors Tuesday that the case is a civil matter and shouldn’t be in criminal court. (Associated Press)

 

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.  — Jurors have begun considering evidence in a federal trial of former employees of the truck stop chain Pilot Flying J.

The employees are accused of conspiring to defraud customers in a rebate scam.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the jury deliberated almost four hours Wednesday in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier then suspended deliberations until Monday, citing a schedule conflict.

Trial began in November for four people on charges including conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

Pilot Flying J is controlled by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Haslams haven’t been charged with any wrongdoing. The governor has not been involved in the company in recent years.

In closing arguments Tuesday, attorney Rusty Hardin, representing the former president of Pilot Flying J, told jurors that the case is a civil matter and shouldn’t be in criminal court. Hardin's client, Mark Hazelwood, has been on trial with the three others since November in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga. Hardin also said former sales executive Brian Mosher, who previously made a plea deal and testified for prosecutors, falsely accused Hazelwood.

Federal prosecutor Trey Hamilton presented his closing argument Monday, and former sales staffer Heather Jones’ attorney, Ben Vernia, argued her case Monday.

On Tuesday, attorney David Rivera said former Pilot Flying J Vice President Scott “Scooter” Wombold was an honest supervisor. Rivera said Wombold didn't realize Mosher wasn't telling his customers that he was reducing their fuel discounts.

Former sales staffer Karen Mann's lawyer, Jonathan Cooper, told jurors that Mann didn’t know her boss and his salesmen were lying to trucking companies about the cuts she made at former executive Arnie Ralenkotter’s command. Cooper said Mann never lied to anyone.

“She wanted to be part of a team,” Cooper said. “She was not trying to cheat anyone.”

Ralenkotter, a former sales director, pleaded guilty and testified on the government's behalf.

Emails, recordings and testimony prove that four former employees of the truck stop chain Pilot Flying J conspired to defraud customers in a fuel rebate scam that has already resulted in more than a dozen guilty pleas, Hamilton said in arguments Monday.

He told jurors in his closing argument that conspirators in the scheme identified potential targets, cheated them out of money and lulled them into a false sense of security.

Vernia said the government had “fallen far short” of proving its case against his client.

Prosecutors say the four defendants participated in a scheme to shortchange trucking customers on diesel rebates. Fourteen former members of the Pilot sales team have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, and the company paid a $92 million penalty to the federal government and settled a class-action lawsuit for $85 million.

Hamilton spent much of his closing argument outlining how each of the four defendants was involved.

He said former Pilot account representative Dan Peyton informed Hazelwood that a company had been shortchanged by Pilot. Hamilton also said Hazelwood received emails showing Pilot representatives were offering companies one price and actually charging something different.

Hamilton noted that Wombold worked with Mosher. Hamilton said there’s no evidence of Wombold ever telling Mosher defrauding customers was wrong and advising him to stop. Hamilton also cited emails indicating Mann had participated in the fraud as well as testimony that Jones had sent spreadsheets to Mosher to assist in the scheme.

Vernia disputed the notion that Jones willingly participated in any sort of fraud. Vernia said Jones even had asked Mosher at one point if what they were doing was OK, and that Mosher had told her it was.

“Brian Mosher had no compunction about lying to Heather Jones,” Vernia said.

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