Browns owner, Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam tells trucking leaders he knew nothing about fraud

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam told trucking industry leaders Thursday in Indianapolis that he knew nothing about nor did he participate in an alleged fuel-rebate fraud.

He was responding to a question submitted in advance, and it was the first time he took questions about the raid.

A month ago today, federal agents raided the company's Knoxville headquarters, executing search warrants to seize files and records from the country's largest travel center operator.

On April 18, federal authorities unsealed search warrants laying out accusations of a scheme to cheat small trucking companies by deliberately shorting customers on promised diesel discounts and rebates. Secret recordings by anonymous informants portrayed sales executives laughing about "playing liar's poker with funny money" and alleged Haslam knew about the fuel-rebate scheme.

Federal prosecutors have filed no charges so far and won't say when — or if — any charges might be coming. Pilot has placed some sales staffers on leave — the company won't say which ones — as executives named in the search warrants have scrambled to hire lawyers.

More than a half-dozen civil lawsuits have been filed by trucking companies, which also have hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate their claims.

Haslam spoke to the Scopelitis Transportation Seminar, saying that he has contacted hundreds of operators about the alleged scheme.

NewsChannel5's Ron Regan is also reporting in Indianapolis. He found out from Haslam that the Browns' owner is in constant communication with the NFL about the FBI probe and does not believe it will affect his ownership of team.

Haslam has denied any wrongdoing and met with some trucking customers to offer reimbursement. Pilot's internal investigation headed by Reid Weingarten, a former top U.S. Department of Justice lawyer, is underway.

At least seven companies have filed lawsuits in the past month — one in Knox County Circuit Court, one in Circuit Court in Butler County, Ala., and five others in federal courts around the country — demanding their money back with interest and damages. Three other companies have signed onto the Knox County lawsuit originally filed by Atlantic Coast Carriers of Hazlehurst, Ga., which seeks class-action status. A judge has not ruled on that bid.

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