NASHVILLE — The truck-stop company owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has agreed to pay a $92 million penalty for cheating customers out of promised rebates and discounts, authorities said on Monday.
In an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Pilot Flying J accepted responsibility for the criminal conduct of its employees, 10 of whom have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme.
For its part, the government has agreed not to prosecute the nation’s largest diesel retailer as long as Pilot abides by the agreement. Among other conditions, Pilot has agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation of current and former employees. The agreement does not protect any individual at Pilot from prosecution.
The agreement was signed by U.S. Attorney Bill Killian on Thursday and attorneys for Knoxville-based Pilot on Friday.
Nashville defense attorney and former prosecutor David Raybin said the agreement most likely signals that Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam will not face charges.
“No prosecutor would enter into an agreement like this, ask for this kind of sanction, unless they didn’t have enough evidence to indict Haslam,” he said. “Also, Pilot would not agree to pay unless they felt the government would not prosecute him.”
FBI special agent Robert H. Root said in an affidavit filed in federal court last year that the scheme was known by a variety of euphemisms including “manual rebates.” Sales team members would reduce the amount of money due to trucking company customers they deemed to be too unsophisticated to notice, according to the affidavit.
The scheme was widely known in the sales department, according to court documents, with supervisors teaching other employees how to do it.
Court records said the scheme lasted from at least 2007 until an FBI raid in April, 2013.
Jimmy Haslam has said he was unaware of the scheme. Through a spokesman, he declined an interview on Monday, but issued a statement: “We, as a company, look forward to putting this whole unfortunate episode behind us, continuing our efforts to rectify the damage done, regaining our customers’ trust, and getting on with our business.”
Gov. Bill Haslam holds an undisclosed ownership share in the company but has said he is not involved in Pilot’s day-to-day operations. Pilot has annual revenues of around $30 billion.
Browns add mascot
CLEVELAND — Johnny Manziel’s newest teammate with the Browns has four legs and can roll over on command.
A dog named “Swagger” will lead them onto the field next season, vice president of marketing Kevin Griffin revealed. Griffin says the dog is a bull mastiff, described by The American Kennel Club as a dog “that possesses great intelligence and a willingness to please, making them ideal family companions and protectors.”
The dog mascot is an attempt to reconnect with Cleveland’s Dawg Pound of the past. The notoriously rowdy bleacher section in old Municipal Stadium gave Cleveland one of the best home-field advantages.
The Browns will be the fourth team with an animal mascot, joining Seattle (hawk), Denver (Arabian horse), and Baltimore (two ravens).