Embattled Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam made a rare public appearance this week, some five months after the company was raided by federal agents, but it’s only one of the latest developments for the truckstop chain that's facing a myriad of legal problems.
At the Pilot Travel Center in Knoxville, the city where the company is based, Haslam spoke publicly for the first time about the investigation since May, appearing as part of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week.
“Clearly some people who worked for Pilot Flying J, I should say, apparently made bad decisions, and I think I made it very clear we're going to deal with that,” said Haslam. ”Clearly we have to deal with the government investigation, we are dealing with it, and continue dealing with it going forward. We have more than 25,000 people working for this company, and the vast majority of them do the right thing every day taking care of customers."
This is the fifth time Haslam has talked publicly about the investigation since the April 15 raid. The others were mostly at press conferences called soon after the April 15 raid, as well as a May appearance.
The federal government is looking to see if Pilot Flying J cheated customers out of money in the form of rebates and discounts on fuel purchases, with the goal of bolstering company profits. Haslam has consistently denied any personal knowledge of any wrongdoing, as well as saying the company has done nothing wrong.
Haslam downplayed recent guilty pleas by seven Pilot Flying J employees, telling those in attendance there was “a lot of hullabaloo” earlier but said “really it has all calmed down."
On the company’s “Rebate Education” website, Ken Parent, executive vice president of operations, said the probe had hardly had any effect on the daily business of the company.
"Overall, there has been little effect," he said. "I am very proud that our team has remained focused on our day-to-day operations and ways we can continue to serve our customers better. Externally, we immediately reached out to all of our vendors. They know we are taking this matter seriously and that we will continue to keep them informed."
In the meantime, those that pleaded guilty for their involvement may have to wait quite a while to know their fate. One of the prosecutors and an attorney representing a Pilot Flying J defendant have asked a federal court to delay sentencing until early February. The judge has yet to rule on the request.
In addition, WEWS-TV in Cleveland, Ohio, reports that the federal probe into Pilot Flying J is taking longer than initially expected. "Tens of thousands" of documents obtained from the company still must be sorted through by federal prosecutors, raising the possibility there could be more indictments.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee attorney general is reviewing the proposed civil settlement to multiple lawsuits filed against Pilot Flying J by various trucking operations. Some of the affected trucking companies are not happy with terms of the settlement, and federal law requires the review as well. The review should be finished by around mid-October. It calls for all trucking operations to be paid 100% of money they are owed, going back a number of years, plus 6% simple interest. The company admits no wrongdoing in the settlement.
More than 20 lawsuits have been filed against Pilot Flying J since the mid-April raid, all essentially making similar claims. Not all of the parties that filed the lawsuit were directly part of the settlement, but they and other companies who feel they are owned money by the truckstop operator are included in it, unless they object by late November.
That’s when a fairness hearing is set in federal court in Arkansas in which a judge may give initial approval to the settlement.