Haslam's company to repay trucking firms
The truck-stop chain owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has agreed to pay back the trucking companies that were cheated out of fuel rebates.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The truck-stop chain owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has agreed to pay back the trucking companies that were cheated out of fuel rebates.
A federal judge in Arkansas gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to a class-action settlement that would pay the companies what they are owed with interest.
Federal agents raided the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J earlier this year after an employee claimed the company was systematically cheating its clients.
Five employees have since pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Jimmy Halsam is the brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has an undisclosed ownership share in the company. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
Jimmy Haslam said in a statement that the company is working to make things right with its customers.
"This is an unfortunate time for our customers and our company, but we remain committed to making things 100 percent right with our customers, to put systems in place to help ensure this does not happen again, and to re-earn our customers' trust," he said.
Under the terms of the preliminary settlement, Pilot Flying J would pay all legal fees and other expenses. That includes the cost of auditing the accounts and then auditing the auditors.
The lawsuit names eight plaintiffs. Other companies that participated in either the rebate program or the discount program will be sent a notice informing them of the class-action settlement. If they choose to opt out of the settlement, they could still sue separately.
"The advantage to them, if they choose to accept this, is that they get all their money back. They pay no legal fees and no administrative fees," Pilot Flying J attorney Aubrey Harwell said. "It's in keeping with what Jimmy Haslam committed to all along. He said, 'We're going to do this right. They're going to be paid quickly and fairly.' "
The lead attorney for the trucking companies, Don Barrett, said he expects the other companies to be "pleased to death" with the settlement because so many of them don't know whether they are owed money or not. With the settlement, they will find out what they are owed and get that money back with 6 percent interest accrued "from the minute they sent the check and it was less than it should have been," Barrett said.
Barrett said the settlement offers customers the most complete relief he has seen in more than 40 years of practicing law, and he said much of that was due to Jimmy Halsam, "who stepped up to the plate and did the right thing."
In a July 12 letter made public Monday, Haslam said Pilot had sent checks to trucking companies shorted on rebates. He didn't say how large the checks were or how many were being distributed.
Haslam said during a speech in May at an annual conference of truckers in Indianapolis that as many as 250 trucking companies might be owed money.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Pilot Flying J has $4 billion in debt, which prompted speculation that Haslam would look to sell the Browns. He told ESPN Cleveland in a telephone interview last week, however, that he would "absolutely not" be selling the team.
"We plan on owning the Browns for a long time," he told ESPN Cleveland.
He refused to comment on The Journal's story when asked about it by ESPN Cleveland last week but instead emphasized how much money he has invested into the Browns, including $5 million to remodel the team's facilities and a planned $100 million investment to remodel the team's stadium.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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