Haslam Deposition Remains on Table

Pilot Flying J refutes claim of "shell" company bartering settlement


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Tennessee judge has given Pilot Flying J until next Friday to respond to a lawsuit filed by trucking companies that claim Pilot defrauded them of diesel fuel rebates, according to a report in the Plain Dealer.

Knox County Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly did not immediately rule on a request by attorneys for Atlantic Coast Carriers and three other trucking companies that they be allowed to take the sworn deposition of Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam and other Pilot officials.

Wimberly told attorneys for Pilot and the trucking companies Thursday that he will hold a conference in the second week of September to talk about how to proceed with the case.

Pilot attorney Albert Harb had asked Wimberly to stay discovery in Atlantic Coast's lawsuit until a November fairness in Arkansas on Pilot's proposed class settlement of claims by customers that are owed rebates and discounts on fuel purchases at Pilot service plazas.

Pilot spokeswoman Rachel Albright told the newspaper, "The judge heard arguments today and took discovery under advisement. We look forward to filing answers to the complaints and visiting with the judge again in early September."

Drew McElroy, who along with Mark Tate represented the trucking companies in Knox County Circuit Court, said the requirement that Pilot provide an answer to Atlantic Coast's lawsuit moves the case forward and "increases the likelihood of a deposition by not shutting the door on it. Pilot wanted it shut down completely. We wanted it wide open."

Harb, Pilot's lawyer, said Pilot looked forward to responding to the complaint, adding "We believe that the settlement that was reached by Pilot and other plaintiffs in the class action is fair to all parties."

McElroy said discovery would shed light on National Retail Transportation Inc., which spearheaded negotiations with Pilot on the proposed class settlement. National Retail Transportation was incorporated in Arkansas a week after federal authorities raided Pilot headquarters in Knoxville on April 15.

McElroy has called National Retail a "shell" corporation that never bought a drop of diesel from Pilot. A Pilot spokeswoman earlier this week said the truck-stop chain had no involvement with National Retail's formation.

Seven former Pilot employees have so far pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the government's investigation into claims that Pilot cheated customers.

Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns, has said he had absolutely no knowledge of any wrongdoing by employees of his family-owned business, and he's vowed to pay customers anything they're owed in fuel shortages, plus interest.