Nearly 19 hours of deliberations but no verdict yet in Pilot Flying J fraud trial

Knoxville News-Sentinel |

--CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., -- After more than two days of deliberations, a jury deciding the fate of the former president of the nation's largest diesel fuel retailer and three subordinates in a plot to rip off truckers still had not reached a verdict Tuesday.

Former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood, former Vice President Scott "Scooter" Wombold and former account representatives Karen Mann and Heather Jones have been standing trial since November in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga on charges including conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

The quartet are accused in a five-year scheme within the company's direct sales division to lure trucking companies into buying diesel from Pilot Flying J with promises of discounts they never intended to fully pay, and lying to those firms about it.

Jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon and resumed Monday. The panel deliberated eight hours on Monday and more than seven hours on Tuesday before they quit for the evening.



The jury posed one question Monday, asking U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier to define the word "voluntarily."

That word is used in the conspiracy charges, and jurors have been instructed they must find each of the four defendants "voluntarily" joined and participated in the fraud scheme.

Mann's attorney, Jonathan Cooper, has argued Mann was simply doing the bidding of her bosses and, when she raised questions about changing discounts without telling the trucking companies, was told it was OK. He contended in his arguments Mann did not "voluntarily" join the conspiracy.

Fourteen former Pilot Flying J sales executives and staffers have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Two more were granted immunity. Pilot Flying J's board has confessed criminal responsibility and paid $92 million in criminal penalties and another $85 million in lawsuit settlements.

The board also has been picking up the defense tab for Hazelwood and his three accused former subordinates.

Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam has denied any knowledge of the fraud scheme and is not charged.

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