Appeals court won’t reinstate convictions in PFJ rebate fraud
January 5, 2021
•Land Line Staff
A federal appellate court denied prosecutors’ requests to reinstate fraud convictions for three former Pilot Co., executives accused of masterminding a scheme to bilk small trucking companies out of promised fuel rebates.
Former President Mark Hazelwood, former vice president of national sales Scott Wombold, and former regional saleswoman Heather Jones were convicted in 2018 for their roles in a scheme.
In a 2-1 ruling last October, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions on the grounds that audio recordings of Hazelwood using racist and misogynistic language used during the trial prejudiced the jury against the defendants.
But prosecutors filed documents in late November asking for a rehearing to reinstate the convictions. They argued that the judges misunderstood the reason the recordings were admitted in the first place.
Prosecutors argued that the recordings were intended to “rebut Hazelwood’s assertion that he was too good of an executive and businessman to do anything that could jeopardize the company’s viability and success.”
In documents filed Dec. 30, the appeals court denied the petition for a rehearing, though it did not give a reason why.
Eighteen Pilot employees were charged in connection with the conspiracy, which sought to entice trucking companies to purchase fuel from Pilot and Flying J truck stops at a discounted price via a rebate offer. The conspiracy first came to public light following an FBI raid of the company’s Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters in 2013.
The rebate amount was manipulated by Pilot Flying J staff.
Another former executive, Vince Greco, turned FBI informant in exchange for immunity and recorded the tapes at a corporate retreat in October 2012. Before Hazelwood proceeded to trial in late 2017, 14 other Pilot employees and executives had already pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire or mail fraud. Karen Mann, a regional account representative who was tried jointly with Hazelwood, Wombold and Jones, was acquitted.
The jury trial lasted 27 days, with nearly 30 witnesses, including cooperating Pilot employees who pleaded guilty for their roles in the conspiracy.
The jury returned its verdict after deliberating for five days. They found Hazelwood guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud as well as witness tampering. LL