ESPN has recently tackled the fortunes of the Haslam family with two articles detailing its struggle with an FBI investigation and Jimmy Haslam’s purchase of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
A story from Oct. 9 outlines the FBI’s investigation into Pilot Flying J and Jimmy Haslam’s role in the scandal.
Although Haslam insists that he is “making it right” with his customers who were shortchanged on their rebates, the FBI investigation continues. Agents and prosecutors are sifting through what one lawyer involved in the investigation said are “literally millions of pages of emails and documents.”
At least 11 former Pilot employees already are cooperating with the FBI and offering evidence against Pilot. Seven of them have entered guilty pleas to fraud charges, and four have obtained immunity from prosecution in return for their cooperation. Late last month, federal prosecutors, in a major signal, arranged to postpone the sentencing of the seven to allow the FBI to continue its probe. The delay shows that the investigation is growing beyond earlier expectations, say lawyers and an investigator involved in the probe who spoke to ESPN.com on condition of anonymity. The court cases are now scheduled for a report to the judge on Feb. 3.
Western is one of 27 trucking companies that have sued Pilot and demanded payment of the discounts they were promised. There’s also a class-action lawsuit filed in Little Rock, Ark., on behalf of all Pilot customers in which Haslam and Pilot have made a major settlement offer. But as enormous as his problems with his customers might be, Haslam’s biggest problem is the FBI’s continuing investigation.
According to the sworn FBI statement filed in federal court in Knoxville, the probe began when an individual known only as Confidential Human Source 1 (CHS1) told the FBI that an employee of Pilot had described to CHS1 a vast scheme in which Pilot officials “had been intentionally defrauding” Pilot customers by withholding amounts due to customers in the form of monthly rebate checks. Instead of sending the promised rebate on the fuel purchased by the customer, Pilot employees reduced the amounts of the rebates to increase company profits and to increase their sales commissions.”
The sports website then published another story that digs deeper into the Haslam family.
The Haslams are one of the most powerful families in the South. Jimmy’s younger brother, Bill, is the governor of Tennessee and is considered a potential Republican candidate for the White House in 2016. They don’t like to talk about that, of course. One store at a time, one election at a time. Their father, “Big Jim” Haslam, is a regular Horatio Alger story, taking Pilot from a tiny gas station to an American interstate institution.
When (Bill) Haslam was elected governor in a landslide in 2010, Big Jim swelled with pride. He filled his office with pictures of his boy on election day. A February 2013 article in Politico called Haslam “the most important Republican governor you’ve never heard of,” a man who makes government work. The article said Haslam had a 68 percent approval rating at the time.
But he has his share of critics. They bristled when Haslam refused to disclose his personal ownership stake in Pilot. They wondered why one of Haslam’s advisers has also been working with Pilot’s public handling of the FBI investigation.”The Haslams have done some wonderful things in the community,” said Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson. “[Bill] might be a nice family man and all of that. But unfortunately as governor, he’s appointed Pilot board members to high-powered government jobs and given preferential treatment to businessmen and lobbyists with ties to Pilot.
When taken together the articles imply the FBI may still indict Jimmy Haslam.
In which case the Haslams are rumored to have a contingency plan; the reins would be handed to Big Jim Haslam, who refused to comment on the rumor.