Lawyer in rebate lawsuit accuses Haslam, Pilot attorneys of 'publicity stunt'

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, May 12, 2016

The attorney representing an Alabama trucking firm that’s suing Pilot Flying J over the company’s fuel rebate scam says the recent announcement that truck stop CEO Jimmy Haslam agrees to a deposition is nothing more than a “publicity stunt.”

Attorney Stephen Tunstall made the accusation as part of a 14-page objection filed Wednesday, May 11, in the circuit court of Mobile County, Ala. Among the objections alleged by Tunstall are that attorneys for Haslam and the truck stop chain have unnecessarily delayed and avoided the proceedings.

The motion indicates that the Alabama case has an Aug. 20 deadline for all pretrial discovery, and that related cases pending in Franklin County, Ohio, also have discovery deadlines in August. Because Haslam is one of the few witnesses who has not been indicted or pleaded guilty, Tunstall argues he is one of the only ones who can provide “substantive testimony” to Wright Transportation regarding claims against Mark Hazelwood, the former president of Pilot Flying J.

“(Haslam’s) deposition must be obtained at least 60 days prior to discovery completion in order to afford Wright the opportunity to act on the information Haslam provides during his deposition (subpoenas, additional depositions, etc.),” the motion states. “Therefore, Haslam, in essence, continues to dodge and delay as he has for the past three years, and apparently intends to run out the clock.”

The document asks the court to deny the defendant’s motion for protective order and a stay, and to issue an amended subpoena for Haslam’s videotaped deposition, to be conducted within 30 days.

“Wright’s claims against Defendant Hazelwood have been pending since November of 2015 without any discovery, and Haslam is one of the only witnesses who can provide critical substantive testimony regarding Wright’s claims against Hazelwood and the scheme to defraud,” the motion states.

Last week, Haslam’s attorney Stephen D. Brody filed a letter with the court saying his client would agree to give deposition under certain conditions – including limiting the deposition to a single day, and no more than seven hours.

Haslam’s deposition is sought as Wright Transportation attempts a civil suit to recover monies they say they were duped out of by executives at Pilot Flying J in connection with a massive fuel rebate fraud scheme that brought federal agents and the IRS to raid the company’s Tennessee headquarters in 2013. The suit alleges that Pilot specifically targeted smaller companies like Wright Transportation, only to cook the books and skim some of the discount moneys for itself to pay lavish bonuses to its officers, managers and employees, including Haslam.

Eight former executives and high-ranking employees have been charged in connection with the fraud scheme, and the company agreed to pay out more than $85 million in restitution to more than 5,000 customers who had partaken in the company’s rebate plan. The company also agreed to pay $92 million in fines and accept responsibility for the criminal conduct of its employees. Haslam has not been charged in connection with the criminal case, and has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the scheme.

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