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Carrier accuses Haslam of obstructing justice, buying off customers

A judge could decide Monday whether Haslam and his company crossed a legal line from making amends to witness-tampering by offering to pay up the difference to any trucking companies shorted on fuel rebates.

The Associated Press

4/26/2013

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A trucking company suing Pilot Flying J is accusing Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Haslam of obstructing justice and buying off alleged cheated customers.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that in a motion for a restraining order filed Thursday, attorneys for Atlanta Coast Carriers accuse Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns, of asking customers to sign releases giving up their rights to sue.

The trucking company filed a lawsuit against Pilot in Circuit Court last week accusing the company of racketeering violations.

A judge could decide Monday whether Haslam and his company crossed a legal line from making amends to witness-tampering by offering to pay up the difference to any trucking companies shorted on fuel rebates as part of what federal authorities claim amounted to an interstate fraud conspiracy. Pilot’s lawyer calls the claims “outrageous” and unfounded.

Lawyers for Atlantic Coast Carriers of Hazlehurst, Ga., filed a lawsuit last week in Knox County Circuit Court accusing Pilot of racketeering violations and seeking class-action status for Pilot’s trucking customers. The lawsuit came five days after FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided Pilot’s corporate headquarters in West Knoxville on April 15 as part of an investigation into claims of rebate fraud.

Atlantic Coast’s lawyers, Drew McElroy and Mark Tate, claim that Pilot’s good-will efforts and apologies have included pressuring customers to sign releases giving up their rights to sue.

They say Pilot, the country's largest diesel retailer, owes the company interest on the lost money, along with damages as punishment. Pilot lawyers have denied any wrongdoing.

“At issue in this case is the danger that defendants are inducing potential class members to waive important rights before they obtain proper legal advice or know the full extent of any damages they have,” the attorneys wrote. “The amounts defendants are now offering potential class members may be well below the full amount of their claims. Defendants should not now be permitted to influence witnesses and pay what they should have paid years ago in an attempt to undermine the class-action process.”

“I appreciate pleadings being merely claims, but when those claims are so grossly overreaching and so totally absurd, they really don’t deserve to be treated as legitimate claims,” Aubrey Harwell Jr., who represents Pilot, told the newspaper. “This company has made an effort to ascertain whether customers received underpayments or overpayments, how much and what they’re owed. They’re going about it in an honest, diligent and decent manner.”

No charges have been filed.

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