Five years ago, Pilot Flying J—the truck-stop empire built and ran by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his family—was the subject of a federal raid, built on fraud allegations.
The crux of the matter, according to Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, who spoke with Nashville Public Radio on Friday, is that, “the direct sales team at Pilot Flying J would lure smaller trucking companies in, in return for promises of discounts or rebates on their fuel purchases. Pilot would say, ‘Well, we’ll shave six pennies off the gallon for you.’ But [the companies] were actually being paid two cents or three cents. And of course they weren’t told.” The result was 14 former executives pleading guilty to various charges as well as the current trial, in which four former Pilot Flying J employees now have their fates in the jury’s hands, having been charged with mail and wire fraud.
Nashville Public Radio also asked Satterfield what the trial’s result will mean for Haslam’s ability to remain legally unscathed, as he has managed to do thus far. Haslam has long-maintained having no knowledge of the rebate scam, but evidence to the contrary was presented during the former employees’ trial, including Brian Mosher (“one of the biggest fraudsters in this scheme,” per Satterfield) testifying that he showed Haslam actual spreadsheets detailing the scam as well as a secret recording that includes Haslam speaking about “something related to a fraud committed by another sales executive.”
While taken at face value it appears this is bad news for Haslam, Satterfield does not believe that it will result in Haslam being called to testify at any subsequent trials. Satterfield said, “The feds have known all of this information since the raid... So although this information about Jimmy Haslam is new to the public, it’s not new to the feds. Does it change the game? I don’t think so.”
Haslam, though, isn’t entirely in the clear, though that moment is rapidly approaching. The statute of limitations for fraud runs out in April, so the government would need to act quickly if Haslam truly is a target of the investigation. Unless that happens in the next two months, the Pilot Flying J scandal will be part of Haslam’s past, neither affecting his criminal record nor his ability to continue to own the Browns. Though it’s clear Haslam knew something about the scheme—and the federal government knows it—it does not appear that he is the fish prosecutors are choosing to fry in this particular case.