KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood will spend Christmas behind bars.
U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier denied Hazelwood’s request to delay beginning serving his prison term for a fraud sentence until after Christmas.
“If the court attempted to set (prison) dates that did not conflict with any religious holidays, it would be unable to set any dates at all,” the judge wrote. “Easter, the most important Christian religious holiday, would come just a few short months after Christmas.”
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Collier had already granted Hazelwood’s request to push back his first day behind bars until after Thanksgiving.
But his lawyers argued Hazelwood’s “devout” Christian faith and sense of “family values” offered good reason for letting Hazelwood spend Christmas with his family.
The ruling means Hazelwood, 59, will report November 26 to begin serving a 12-and-a-half year sentence for cheating trucking customers out of millions of dollars at the diesel pump. A federal jury convicted him in February of wire fraud, witness tampering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to the newspaper, Hazelwood failed to show “any religious — as opposed to family — needs regarding Christmas that the Bureau of Prisons would not be able to accommodate,” Collier wrote.
Hazelwood was the highest-ranking member of Pilot Flying J who was convicted in the plot to defraud customers.
Two subordinates were convicted of varying crimes alongside him, and 14 others pleaded guilty. Two were granted immunity. Pilot Flying J’s board also admitted criminal responsibility.
Court documents showed Hazelwood was earning $26.9 million at the height of the fraud plot — double his pay when the scheme began in earnest.
Hazelwood was paid $40 million in severance pay from the truck stop chain.
Even after his indictment in 2016, Hazelwood continued to make money from the trucking industry. He heads a trucker recruitment firm; a trucking consulting firm and markets himself as an agent for truckers — all while under house arrest.