Illinois firm joins lawsuit against Pilot Flying J

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A new lawsuit alleges that the president of Pilot Flying J told an Illinois trucking company that Pilot could not help it with any rebate discrepancies after the company said its fuel deal wasn’t in writing, but that the company subsequently received a rebate check after raising the issue with Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam.

The allegation was made by J.F. Freight Company, of Palatine, Illinois.

J.F. Freight joined a lawsuit filed last week by FST Express, and the new allegations were made in an amended complaint.

The suit said J.F. Freight’s primary contacts with Pilot have been former regional sales manager Cathy Sokolowski, former regional sales manager Jonathan Duvall -- the son-in-law of CFO Mitch Steenrod -- and regional account representative Jacqui Pearl.

The lawsuit said Duvall had later been promoted to director of sales/South.

The suit alleged Sokolowski, Duvall and Pearl periodically sweetened J.F. Freight’s discount deal, and that in early 2010 Sokolowski promised the company a discount of “cost plus $0.01”, but concealed the fact that J.F. Freight never received that discount.

The suit alleged Duvall falsely told the company it was receiving the discount.

The suit alleged that in December, Pearl offered “retail minus $0.20” after Love’s Travel Centers made another offer. The suit alleged that J.F. Freight accepted Pilot’s offer, but Pilot concealed the fact that it never provided the discount.

Federal authorities raided Pilot headquarters on April 15, and a federal affidavit alleged that some Pilot employees had engaged in fuel rebate fraud.

Seven Pilot workers have pleaded guilty in the case and a criminal probe is ongoing.

The federal affidavit said Cathy Giesick, a former Pilot employee, was among the first people contacted by the FBI in its investigation, and that she entered a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for her cooperation. The affidavit said Giesick was also known as Cathy Sokalowski during her employment with Pilot.

In its lawsuit, J.F. Freight alleged that in June, Pearl and Pilot president Mark Hazelwood visited J.F. Freight, and that Hazelwood asked if the company’s discount deals were in writing.

When the company’s president said it was an oral agreement, the suit alleged, “Hazelwood abruptly proclaimed that (Pilot) could not help J.F. with respect to any discount discrepancies.”

The suit said J.F. Freight later addressed the issue with Pilot’s CEO, Jimmy Haslam, who apologized for Pilot’s conduct, and that the company subsequently received a check for $12,215.57.

“That amount is a small fraction of the promised discounts Defendant wrongfully withheld from J.F.,” the suit alleged.

Tom Ingram, a spokesman for Pilot, said the company will review the allegations and defend itself appropriately.

Pilot faces multiple civil lawsuits and has reached a settlement deal with several plaintiffs who sued in federal court. The proposed settlement — in which Pilot agreed to pay 100 percent of losses plus 6 percent interest and attorney’s fees — is scheduled to receive a fairness hearing in November.

The deadline to opt out of that settlement is Oct. 15.

 
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