2 more plead guilty in truck-stop chain probe

AP News
Posted: Jul 29, 2013 4:49 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two more members of the Pilot Flying J sales staff pleaded guilty Monday to defrauding customers at the truck-stop chain owned by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

The pleas by Regional Sales Manager Michael Scott Fenwick and Regional Account Representative Janet Welch bring the total number of sales employees pleading guilty in the case to seven. Two others have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Court documents case show that the scheme to cheat customers out of rebate and discount money was well-known among sales staff. According to the plea agreements filed on Monday, both Welch and Fenwick participated in a November training session that taught employees how to defraud trucking companies without getting caught.

Welch's plea agreement says she "actively participated in the discussion." And Fenwick told a group of sales employees that if a customer ever caught him reducing a rebate, he would blame the reduction on other sales staff or a computer error, according to his plea agreement.

Welch's agreement says she prepared and emailed monthly spreadsheets for approval to other sales staff containing the actual rebate amounts due along with a "deceptively reduced rebate amount" for some of the customers. Once approved, Welch would cause checks to be sent with deceptive amounts.

Both Welch and Fenwick are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Prosecutors have agreed to hold them responsible only for those illegal acts in which they were personally involved. Both have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify truthfully if called.

Welch's attorney declined to comment; Fenwick's attorney, Randy Reagan, said of his client, "He's accepted responsibility for his actions and looking forward to putting this behind him."

Jimmy Haslam has denied any personal wrongdoing. Gov. Bill Haslam maintains he is not involved with operating Pilot Flying J, though he continues to hold an undisclosed ownership stake in the company posting annual revenues of about $30 billion.

After the pleas on Monday, Pilot Flying J released a statement expressing disappointment in the actions of Welch and Fenwick.

"We reiterate that the company, led by CEO Jimmy Haslam, is committed to do what is right, to pay back every customer affected by these actions, to implement policies and procedures to ensure this does not happen again, and to restore our customers' trust and confidence, which is still well-placed in Pilot Flying J," the statement reads.

The company says it has already sent checks to customers who were cheated out of rebates and discounts. A group of nine companies that was suing Pilot over the rebates has reached a class-action settlement. Another nine companies have said they will opt out of the settlement and pursue their own lawsuits.