Former FBI director, firm hired to conduct forensic investigation into Pilot

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Georgia attorney who has filed a class action lawsuit against Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J has hired The Freeh Group, headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, to conduct a forensic investigation into the truck stop chain’s alleged fuel rebate scam.

Mark Tate, founder of the Tate Law Group LLC, of Savannah, GA, was the first to file a class action lawsuit against Pilot on behalf of trucking company Atlantic Coast Carriers of Hazlehurst, GA.

“The Freeh Group is a very high-quality, recognized and trustworthy group of forensic investigators that can digest the information that’s out there for us and make it so we can present admissible testimony,” Tate told Land Line.

Pilot CEO James “Jimmy” Haslam III has offered to reimburse trucking companies that may have been victims of the alleged scheme what they are owed. However, Tate said it isn’t enough to compensate the affected trucking companies.

Haslam has personally called 250-300 companies since the FBI and the IRS raided Pilot Flying J corporate headquarters April 15, seizing computers and documents related to the alleged fuel rebate fraud scheme.

“He voluntarily paid one (trucking company) a couple hundred thousand dollars; I think that’s probably the floor of it. If they are paid back the interest and the penalties they should be paid, I think this is easily a case that would involve $100 million dollars or more,” Tate said.

“Is that anything to Haslam? No, they gross $34 billion per year. This is good news for everybody. He has the ability to repay all of the people he scammed from – all of it and go on.”

According to Tate, the trucking companies that have been reimbursed by Pilot and Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns football team, have not had to sign any type of release stating they won’t sign on to become part of the class-action lawsuit.

“The lawyers for Pilot Flying J agreed that the money they are paying them is not compensation and they are not getting releases for it,” Tate said. “That’s pretty interesting. They will be part of the class once it’s certified.”

Since the FBI and the IRS launched their criminal investigation, at least six civil lawsuits have been filed against Pilot Flying J. The lawsuits are based on the FBI’s affidavit for a search warrant, now unsealed. In the affidavit, claims were made by former employees and informants cooperating with the FBI that sales staff entered into rebate or discount programs with trucking companies for purchasing a certain volume of fuel each month, but then manually reduced the amounts the companies were owed.

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