Former Pilot Flying J president Mark Hazelwood will not have to spend Christmas in a federal prison, after an appeals court granted his request to remain free on bail pending the outcome of his appeal.
In their ruling on Nov. 13, judges in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Hazelwood’s attorneys that audio recordings of their client making “extremely offensive racist and misogynist remarks” should not have been played for jurors and may have contributed to his conviction.
A federal judge sentenced Hazelwood to 12 years in prison and fined him $750,000 after he was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in connection with Pilot Flying J’s fuel rebate scheme. The scam, which was perpetrated by several high-ranking members of the company, involved fraudulent and false pretenses, promises and representations made to the targeted trucking companies, including fraudulently generated invoices and rebate amounts.
The case now reverts back to U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Collier, to set the terms of Hazelwood’s bail. Earlier this month, Collier denied a motion by Hazelwood’s attorneys that sought to have him report to prison after the Christmas holiday season. Hazelwood had been ordered to report to prison on Nov. 26.
On Thursday, attorneys for Hazelwood filed a motion to set terms of his release with the District Court. They argue that Hazelwood’s conduct since being placed on house arrest in February demonstrate that he is not a flight risk. They also request that he be allowed to make operable his private plane and boat so that they may be sold.
The conspiracy came to light in 2013 following a raid on the company’s Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters by the FBI and the IRS. Pilot Flying J’s board confessed to criminal responsibility and paid a $92 million penalty. The nation’s largest truck stop chain paid an additional $85 million to settle various lawsuits filed by customers.
While defense attorneys for Hazelwood repeatedly sought to portray Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam as having knowledge of the scheme, Haslam repeatedly denied any knowledge of the activities. Haslam has not been charged in connection with the conspiracy.
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