The trial of four former Pilot Flying J sales executives accused of defrauding trucking companies in a fuel rebate scam is coming to a close, with final arguments and deliberations scheduled for next week, according to a report in The Knoxville News Sentinel.
The trial began in November of last year, and through 19 days in the Chattanooga courtroom, the prosecution and representatives of the four accused offered evidence and testimony. On trial were former executive vice president of Pilot Flying J Mark Hazelwood, former president Scott Wombold, and two former sales representatives, Karen Mann and Heather Jones.
The fraud case dates back to 2012, when the FBI found that Pilot defrauded as many as 5,500 customers of more than $56 million in rebates that were owed but never paid. The victimized trucking companies were promised a certain amount in fuel rebates but the former sales staff would reduce the amount at a later date and lie to customers in order to increase profits. So far, 14 former Pilot employees have plead guilty to their role in scam. Some of the employees that previously pleaded guilty appeared as witnesses in this latest trial, detailing the inner workings of the fraud scheme at the company.
Details emerged about how sales employees felt pressured to comply with the fraud scheme and the casual manner in which employees treated it. The fraud often targeted customers that former sales employees viewed as easy targets. The amount that certain members of the sales staff were able to defraud from customers was often tied to sales bonuses and possibly promotions.
Attorneys for Hazelwood and Wombold argued that their clients were guilty by association alone. Attorneys for Mann and Jones argued that their clients had no intention of committing fraud and were unaware of any conspiracy to scam customers
Pilot Flying J reached settlements with authorities and customers in 2014 for $92 million and $87 million, respectively.
Closing arguments for the prosecution and defense are scheduled for Feb. 5, with jury deliberation set to occur later in the week.