Georgia lawyer seeks to depose CEO Jimmy Haslam, President Mark Hazelwood of Pilot Flying J

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A Georgia attorney wants the chance to get answers from top executives at Pilot Flying J.

In a July 8 letter to attorneys for the Knoxville-based chain of truck stops, Savannah, Ga., attorney Mark Tate said he wants to take videotaped depositions of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam, President Mark Hazelwood and former Vice President of Sales John Freeman.

A notice also indicated a desire to take the deposition of Tom Ingram, a consultant working on behalf of Pilot.

Tate represents several trucking firms that have sued Pilot in Knox County Circuit Court in connection with a government investigation into rebate fraud by Pilot.

The notices are no guarantee that a deposition will take place any time soon, but they do highlight the intense interest among some plaintiffs' attorneys to question Pilot executives.

Earlier this week, Pilot announced a settlement with several plaintiffs who had filed lawsuits in federal court, but Tate on Thursday said that step was premature.

"I don't believe that it's proper to settle before we know the depth of the deceit here," Tate said. "There are criminal charges pending. There are grand juries meeting. This is an intentional act, and to later come back and say, ‘Hey, we're going to pay you back and throw some interest on it' does not take into account the depth of corporate culpability."

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James M. Moody of the Eastern District of Arkansas gave preliminary approval to a proposed agreement in which Pilot agreed to pay plaintiffs 100 percent of their losses plus 6 percent interest, and to cover all attorney's fees for customers in the class.

Eight plaintiffs signed off on the agreement, but Pilot has said that at least 13 other lawsuits are pending.

Don Barrett, a Mississippi attorney for the plaintiffs who reached a settlement, said earlier this week that the deal was the best he'd seen in 44 years of practicing law.

The civil litigation is also moving quickly on another front.

Next week, attorneys on both sides had been scheduled to appear in Portland, Maine, for a hearing in front of the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, known as the MDL Panel, to determine whether the multiple federal suits should be transferred to one district for consolidated pretrial proceedings.

On Thursday, though, attorneys for Pilot and the settling plaintiffs filed a motion with the MDL Panel seeking to defer consideration of the consolidation until after Nov. 25, when the U.S. District Court in Arkansas will conduct a fairness hearing on the settlement deal.

"It would not serve the convenience of the parties or promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation to centralize the cases at this juncture," they argued.

That doesn't sit well with at least one attorney outside the settlement.

Matt Conn, who represents Alabama-based Shoreline Transportation, said his firm will oppose the effort to delay the MDL proceedings.

"We plan to investigate this case through the discovery process and get to the bottom of this fraud," he said.

Shoreline is one of more than 20 companies that sued Pilot in the wake of an April 15 government raid on its headquarters, seeking evidence of rebate fraud.

Five Pilot employees have already pleaded guilty in the case, and a criminal investigation is ongoing.

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