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Former Pilot Flying J Employees Take the Stand in Fraud Trial

November 10, 2017

By Steven Martinez

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Former members of the Pilot Flying J sales staff took the stand this week to give testimony in the Pilot Flying J fraud case against four accused former executives of the company, according to a detailed report posted by Knox News.com.

Prosecution and defense attorneys had called the former employees, who worked under the accused executives, to testify. Many of the witnesses painted a picture of a high-stress work environment in which there was implied and explicit pressure to take part in the fuel rebate scam.

A former salesman described his hesitation to reduce the fuel rebate for New Jersey trucking company Dynamic Express because he said there were rumors of a connection to the Gambino organized crime family. But in an email exchange, the director of sales for Pilot’s northeast region, Arnie Ralenkotter, pressured him to do it or lose the account altogether.

In another email shown to the court, Ralenkotter described cheating companies out of their full fuel rebates as "fun" when speaking with one of the accused executives, Karen Mann, according to another report, posted by Chattanoogan.com. Ralenkotter is among the 14 Pilot sales employees who had previously plead guilty to their roles in the case.

The facts of the case — that there was a scam to cheat trucking companies out of their full fuel rebates — are not being disputed in the trial. A primary goal of the prosecution and defense is to show what roles the four accused executives played in directing the scam and/or their awareness of it.

The testimony on Nov. 9 focused on Mark Hazelwood, the former president of Pilot Flying J and the highest-ranking executive on trial. Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam has not been charged in the case and denies any knowledge of the rebate scam.

Hazelwood’s attorneys called witnesses who spoke to his dedication to his job and described him as so busy that he couldn’t devote much attention to what his subordinates were doing. The defense also called witnesses to speak about Hazelwood’s relationship to Pilot’s sales vice president John Freeman, implying that Hazelwood was jealous of Freeman’s allegedly closer relationship with Haslam.

Earlier this year, Freeman pled guilty to mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with the scam.

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