Pilot Truck Stop

No rebate for Hazelwood; Wombold, Jones, and Mann get Manuel discounts

It’s over. The marathon three month-long fraud and conspiracy trial of former Pilot Flying J employees Mark Hazelwood, Scott Wombold, Heather Jones, and Karen Mann concluded today when the jury reached a mixed verdict. In the end, Pilot's millions couldn't keep its former president from facing the consequences of his actions. It took the twelve jurors about 30 hours to find former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood guilty of two counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and tampering with a witness. Heather Jones was found guilty of one count of fraud. Former VP of National Sales Scott Wombold was found guilty of one count of wire fraud, but was acquitted with Karen Mann of conspiracy. Wombold was also acquitted of making false statements to federal agents, who interrogated him during the Tax Day raid and after.

The jury had repeatedly returned to Judge Collier this week, telling him that they had reached verdicts on 16 counts, but were deadlocked on the last one. This morning Judge Collier gave the jury an 'Allen charge', a special instruction  intended to get those in the minority opinion to resolve their differences and reach a consensus.

While the newly minted felons won’t be sentenced until later this year, the verdict represents the beginning of the end for Pilot Flying J’s years-long legal odyssey. It all started when the long arm of the law came down at the now-infamous Tax Day raid on Pilot Flying J’s Knoxville, Tennessee, headquarters in 2013. Two dozen armed federal agents from the FBI and IRS paid a surprise visit to the headquarters, ordering employees to stand up away from their desks and keep their hands on their heads. The agents rifled through computers, trip reports, and files looking for evidence of a wide-ranging, multi-million dollar conspiracy to commit fraud against Pilot Flying J’s customers, mostly small- and medium-sized trucking carriers.

The FBI and the IRS raided Pilot’s headquarters after receiving word that Pilot leadership had been tipped off to their years-long investigation, which involved a number of informants and secret tape recordings. In the course of their investigation, the feds eventually rolled more than a dozen former Pilot employees, racking up guilty pleas and testimony against their corrupt bosses.

After the verdict, Judge Collier commended the attorneys on both sides, saying that the very high quality of their work was crucial for this case, important to both the government and the defendants. Collier said the conduct of the attorneys in this case demonstrated the important role lawyers play in society.

FreightWaves covered the prosecution’s opening argument, the defense’s initial response, some key moments like the repeated allusions to Jimmy Haslam and the playing of the now-infamous tapes of Hazelwood’s drunken racist banter. The jury heard about the history of the truck stop chain's rapid expansion and huge profits, and also about the cutthroat tactics used by Pilot's executives and sales reps to squeeze every last penny of profit out of small trucking fleets. FreightWaves was there, too, at the closing arguments from both the defense and the prosecution. But what did it all mean? We learned a lot of things about Pilot’s deeply problematic corporate culture—but we also got some startling insights into how trucking has weaponized data.

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