Editorial: Settling claims by trucking firms major step in Pilot Flying J cleaning up a big mess

Jul. 18, 2013 @ 11:45 PM

It’s impossible to know just where the investigation of Pilot Flying J will end up, but the news that a settlement has been reached regarding rebates to trucking companies is encouraging news indeed.

Pilot Flying J, with an FBI investigation of alleged fraud by its sales staff under way, has sent checks to trucking companies shorted on rebates, according to a letter to the company’s customers. In the July 12 letter made public Monday, CEO Jimmy Haslam said that after an audit, “checks have been sent with interest to all who were found to be owed money.”

He didn’t say how large the checks were or how many were being distributed, but he did note there were numerous accounts with a “zero balance and even some accounts that owed money to Pilot Flying J.” Haslam, the brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, said during a speech in May at an annual conference of truckers in Indianapolis that as many as 250 trucking companies might be owed money. Jimmy Haslam bought the Cleveland Browns football team last year.

Pilot Flying J is one of the largest privately held companies in the state, maybe the South, but it has been stained since mid-April when federal agents raided company headquarters in Knoxville. Then came the release of an FBI affidavit with transcripts of secretly recorded conversations among the sales staff. Federal agents say the conversations outline a scheme to defraud trucking companies of fuel rebates. Five members of the sales staff have pleaded guilty to mail fraud and are cooperating with prosecutors, as are two further current and former Pilot staffers. At least 17 trucking firms have filed lawsuits against Pilot in federal court and several other suits are pending in state and county courts.

Jimmy Haslam said in the letter that six members of the company’s sales team have resigned or were fired, and that three others have been placed on administrative leave. So far the scandal has not touched the Haslams, but it’s not ever yet.

In the meantime, one way to start to clean up your act both internally and with the public is to settle with people and companies that were defrauded. That’s been done to the apparent satisfaction of those victimized. Now we’ll see what else comes out of this messy situation.