Latest lawsuit filed against Pilot Flying J includes salty language

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 12/11/2015

The attorney for an Alabama trucking company that is suing Pilot Flying J over its fuel rebate scam says the language he used in his petition may be offensive to some. But it’s also necessary to showcase the contempt he alleges the perpetrators had for the victims of the scheme.

The petition begins with some strong language, stating “F*** them early, F*** them often,” a quote attributed to a recording made by an FBI informant of Pilot’s vice president for sales. The entire document, which was filed in the Circuit Court of Mobile County on Nov. 24, can be read here.

“It is unusual and you hate to put that in a document, but I felt like the unvarnished truth needs to be told about what they’ve done,” attorney Stephen Tunstall told Land Line. “To not have included that would be to dilute or cover up the rawness not only of what they have done but their attitude regarding their customers.”

Pilot agreed to pay $92 million in fines and accept responsibility for the criminal conduct of employees in exchange for an agreement with federal prosecutors to avoid prosecution. The agreement does not prevent individual employees of the company from being prosecuted, however. The Knoxville, Tenn.-based travel plaza chain also agreed to an $85 million restitution plan to more than 5,000 rebate customers.

Seven companies, including Wright Transportation, opted out of that settlement and filed suit. Three of those seven companies settled with Pilot in the spring of 2015. Three of the remaining four were dismissed without prejudice due to lack of jurisdiction by the federal court in eastern Kentucky. Wright Transportation’s case was transferred to federal court in Alabama, where the company ultimately filed a motion to dismiss the suit at the federal level and to refile it with the state court.

Tunstall said the company is seeking “all that the law allows” in terms of redress of damages, including the amount of monies owed to Wright, as well as punitive damages. The suit names company owner Jimmy Haslam, former vice president Mark Hazelwood, former vice president of sales John Freeman, and former national director of sales Brian Mosher. Haslam has denied any involvement or knowledge of the scheme.

A Pilot Flying J spokesperson said the Alabama case is only one of several unsettled issues that the company will continue to work to resolve.

The complaint alleges that Wright Transportation had been involved in the rebate program since 2007. The lawsuit alleges that Pilot targeted smaller trucking companies like Wright Transportation for the rebate program, only to cook the books in order to skim some of the discount monies for itself and to pay lavish bonuses and benefits to its officers, managers and employees, including Haslam. Tunstall said it’s difficult to get a true accounting of how much money Wright and other companies may be owed.

“They tried to identify mom-and-pop companies because they felt like they wouldn’t be sophisticated enough to identify or figure it out. Then they would laugh and make fun of their own customers about it.”

Wright Transportation was one of several trucking companies to file suit against the chain and its owner Jimmy Haslam after a 2013 raid by the FBI and the IRS. The raid exposed what law enforcement officials alleged was a scam involving fuel rebates paid to trucking companies that had the company’s fuel cards.

“Wright Transportation is a family-owned company, they’re salt of the Earth, and they work hard,” he said. “They didn’t deserve this. They’re a longtime, faithful customer of Pilot and they deserved to be treated better than this.”

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