Haslam-Owned Pilot Flying J Employees Headed to Trial Next Month on Federal Fraud Charges

Gov. Bill Haslam meets with lawmakers in Sparta, Tenn., on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
AP Photo/Erik Schelzig

If Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam enters the Republican U.S. Senate primary, as he suggested on Thursday he is considering, things are about to get much tougher for the politician who has carefully avoided revealing the details of his vast inherited financial wealth throughout his public career.

Neither his previous elected position as mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, nor his current job as governor of the state require anything near the level of financial disclosure that is required for candidates for federal office–and those candidates who are ultimately elected to federal office.

Haslam’s financial reporting woes will begin with the source of his wealth, the privately owned Pilot Flying J, which Forbes magazine said had more than $19 billion in sales in 2016.

Forbes estimates that Bill Haslam’s current personal net worth is $2.5 billion, but no one really knows what his–or any member of his family’s–holdings in the company are.

That mystery will end the moment Haslam announces he is a candidate for the U.S. Senate because he will be immediately required to file a personal financial report, which will be available to the public.

Those disclosure documents will reveal granular levels of detail, of the sort that Breitbart News discovered in its review of Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) financial disclosures to the U.S. Senate, including his receipt of more than $108,000 in sales tax rebate incentives from Alabama taxpayers in 2016 from his sweetheart deal investment in the McGowin Park retail center in Mobile, Alabama. Corker announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, one day after Breitbart News reported that he is set to receive more than $3 million in those sales tax rebates from Alabama taxpayers over the next 18 years.

Some details about Gov. Haslam’s holdings in Pilot Flying J may draw the scrutiny of federal investigators who are in the middle of a five year long investigation that is now culminating in indictments, plea deals, and trials for many of the company’s top executives, save one: Gov. Haslam’s brother and company CEO Jimmy Haslam.

Pilot Flying J, headquartered in Knoxville and operator of hundreds of gas stations and convenience stores in the U.S. and Canada, is owned by Gov. Bill Haslam and his family. Haslam’s brother, Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns, is the CEO of the company, which their father, Jim Haslam founded in 1958.

Gov. Haslam has not been actively involved in running the company for many years but has an ownership share in the business. He has said his holdings were placed in a blind trust when he was elected governor in 2010.

The governor will be required to publicly report the details of that blind trust–as well as all of his other extensive investments–the minute he announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

As Breitbart News reported on Thursday, Jimmy Haslam has been one of the most aggressive NFL owners in criticizing President Trump’s comments about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.

“We must not let misguided, uninformed and divisive comments from the president or anyone else deter us from our efforts to unify,” Jimmy Haslam said in a statement released on Sunday.

Jimmy Haslam purchased the Cleveland Browns for $1 billion in December 2012.

Five months later, in April 2013, federal agents raided Pilot’s Knoxville headquarters and several other nearby offices.

Nearly two dozen employees were later charged with a fraudulent scheme to cheat customers out of fuel rebates. Two former employees have been granted immunity in the case for working with federal investigators.

To date, fourteen have entered guilty pleas tied to mail and wire fraud felonies and are awaiting sentencing. Four more, including the president of the company, who reported directly to Jimmy Haslam, are headed to trial in October.

Pilot Flying J reached a formal agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 to avoid criminal prosecution of the corporation.

According to federal prosecutors, Pilot Flying J acknowledged it had defrauded customers out of more than $56 million. The company agreed to pay a fine of $92 million over two years. The company also has paid an additional $85-million civil settlement to dozens of trucking companies, with additional civil claims against the company remaining unresolved.

In July, John “Stick” Freeman, the former vice president of sales, who has been called the architect of the multi-million dollar scam, and three other former Pilot Flying J executives – “former regional sales manager John Spiewak, former direct sales group supervisor Vicki Borden, and former sales representative Katy Bibee” – all pleaded guilty to skimming money in the diesel fuel rebate scam and agreed to a plea bargain.

Freeman has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

All four agreed to cooperate with federal investigators,” Truckinginfo.com reported.

Jimmy Haslam has not been charged in the scandal, and he has denied knowing anything about it, despite the fact that virtually every senior official in his company has been charged, with most already pleading guilty and cooperating with the investigation. Four other defendants, including Mark Hazelwood, the former Pilot president who reported directly to Haslam, face trial in October in Chattanooga. At least one informant has claimed that Haslam did, in fact, know about the scheme.

As is the case in the public corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his friend and political contributor Dr. Salomon Melgen that began this month in a federal courtroom in New Jersey, political observers and legal experts are speculating whether Hazelwood may provide evidence to prosecutors concerning Jimmy Haslam at some point before or during his scheduled trial.


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